Prime Minister, Ralph Gonsalves, has again accused the main trade unions representing public sector workers in St. Vincent and the Grenadines of being political when they demand that the government pay them before general elections one month’s salary in lieu of salary increases since 2011.
The unions, however, say that it is the Ralph Gonsalves government that has not paid them, and they do not know what decisions Vincentians will make at the polls.
The two unions, the Public Service Union and the Teachers’ Union have announced a strike on Tuesday in their attempt to have the payment made before general elections, expected by year-end.
“… how can you say it has nothing to do with politics but you are making this demand and say you must be paid this $25 million before election. What is election? A religious activity or a political activity?” Gonsalves said in an address circulated via state media on Friday.
“I am not casting any aspersion against anybody but I do not live on Mars and the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines live on the real earth,” he said.
“And I know that the vast majority of teachers and public servants, the overwhelming majority of them don’t want any of this to be infused in any politics. And historically, they have sought to avoid politics getting involved in their business. I want to urge them, don’t allow any extraneous political consideration to prompt you to withdraw your service on Tuesday,” Gonsalves said.
The Prime Minister said he has no “beef” or “quarrel” with the teachers.
“They know, in me, they have a friend as prime minister as they have never had in their history of this country.
“They also know that nobody on the horizon to be prime minister is as good a friend of theirs as Ralph is.
“Those are the ways in which I want to put this question. And I repeat my plea: please, teachers, go and teach our children.
“Public servants, come and do the work, which you have been paid to do,” Gonsalves said.
“… I say to the teachers, I say to the Public Service Union, don’t stay away from me, come and talk with me. If Iran — if the Ayatollah in Iran can talk to President Obama, you want to tell me, my brother Boucher, can’t come and talk with Ralph. My brother, the president of Teachers’ Union, Robinson ain’t talking to Ralph, when we in this two-by-two country? We can’t go down this road. I am pleading with them. Let’s talk, and let’s have everybody go to work on Tuesday. God bless you.”
Gonsalves’ speech did not include any of the claims that he has received reports that individual members of the unions’ executive have said that they are not really interested in a salary increase in a change of administration.
But he repeated those allegations on the campaign trail on the weekend.
The unions, in an interview with I-Witness News on Sunday, dismissed the allegations as attempts to divide the leadership and the membership of the union.
Asked why they were demanding the salary payment before general elections, president of the PSU, Elroy Boucher, told I-Witness News:
“After elections, one really doesn’t know who is going to be in charge of the country, which government is going to win the elections. This situation has been created by the current government. It is only fair for it to be dealt with by the current government in a period in which the government is in charge. So, it really wouldn’t be wise on our part to extend that into 2016, unless, of course, we know that the current government is going to win the election, and nobody knows that that can happen. Because, after all, it is an election.”