The EC$25 million that the government is being asked to pay-out as a write-off for no salary increases since 2011 is cheaper than paying increases for every year since then.
So says head of the Public Service Union, Elroy Boucher.
The PSU and the Teachers’ Union have announced a strike for Tuesday (today) as part of the effort to pressure the government to make the payment.
Prime Minister, Ralph Gonsalves has said that his administration cannot afford the payment until 2016.
But the unions are demanding that it be made before general elections, expected before year-end.
Boucher told I-Witness News, on Sunday, that Gonsalves is putting a spin on the unions’ demands.
“I want to challenge him. You say this is better for the workers, 2012, 13, 14, and 15, put the offer on the table for negotiations for that four-year period for salary increases. Put your money where your mouth is,” Boucher said.
“We are … arguing for the one-month salary,” Boucher said, adding that the unions understand when Gonsalves said that his government cannot afford to pay salary increases for the years since 2011.
“That’s why we went for the one-month salary. But he is spinning it now, saying this is better for you all.
“People are going home (retiring) next two, three years with nothing extra for their benefits. That is what you would have preferred, even after you say you can’t deal with it.
“So, if it is so preferred, put your money where your mouth lies. Let us have a have a salary negotiation for those four years. Four per cent retroactive from 2016,” Boucher said.
Weighing in on the issue during the same interview, President of the Teachers’ Union, Oswald Robinson, told I-Witness News:
“So if he wants to pay it in 2016, we will want it retroactively from 2016.”
Boucher also rebutted Gonsalves’ statement that although public sector workers have not received a salary increase since 2011, they have received salary enhancements through increments.
“An increment gets your job to the true value of that job. You start out in the Public Service at the bottom of the scale. So there is a minimum and there is a maximum. The maximum speaks to the true value of the job, which you would have attained over a period of six years. So, the increment gets you there.
“The bulk of the public service has already achieved their maximum … So there are no increments,” Boucher told I-Witness News.
The union leader said he has heard Gonsalves say that some of the Caribbean islands don’t have increments.
“But if they don’t have increments, logic will tell me that they would not start at a minimum salary. Your salary is going to be the maximum salary and then it will move according to the cost of living adjustment or the performance appraisal system in which you paid for performance.
“So I really don’t subscribe to the argument he had put forward with the increment being an increase in salary. It is not an increase in salary,’ Boucher said.
“What about all those persons who are red-circled and did not move through reclassification? They are not getting increments.”
Robinson said that he believes Gonsalves is speaking about increments and comparing St. Vincent and the Grenadines to other Caribbean countries because he wants to abolish increments for Vincentian public sector workers.
Robinson said he believes Gonsalves wants to introduce performance-related pay.
“And that is clearly going against what the recommendation is concerning the status of teachers,” Robinson said, citing International Labour Organisation and United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
Boucher urged public sector workers to consider the one-month salary demand dispassionately.
“If public servants and teachers forget about the politics, then they will see how much it is important to them,” he said.
“Because if you can freeze salaries for literally four-plus, going on to five years, without even informing the unions that you … have frozen salaries and you are on the attack when the unions … have been talking about some financial relief, what else would you not do?
“And if we don’t stand now, then we are just going to fall for anything … So the unions, in my mind, if never before — if 2001 to now have not stood up, need to stand firmly together now, because this is just this situation, but there are a whole number of issues challenging to workers. And we have to deal with them and we must make the government respect workers and the unions in order to deal with all of those issues.
“So you are standing up now, but you are standing up for greater issues coming forward,” Boucher told I-Witness News.