By Kenton X. Chance
The government is offering a 2.5 per cent salary increase for 2015 to public sector workers, to be paid on Dec. 18.
The offer comes one week after public servants staged industrial action urging the Ralph Gonsalves government to reverse a decision that it could not afford a one-month tax-free payment to cover outstanding arrears.
President of the Public Service Union (PSU), Elroy Boucher, said that the offer had been made Tuesday during a meeting between the public sector trade unions and Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, Gonsalves, who had initially described the industrial action as a “failure”.
“Yesterday, the government put an offer on the table. Our primary objective was achieved, and the strike was successful,” Boucher told a news conference.
“If you were to take a productivity measurement within the schools, and you simply have to ask the children what was done throughout the day, and you will realise there was very little done. Throughout the public service, people were just taking their own good time as if they were on go-slow. Productivity for that day, I can assure you, was down, and down tremendously lower than what it would normally have been.”
The trade unions had initially asked for salary increase for the period 2011 to 2014, but proposed a one-month salary increase, tax-free, after the government said it could not afford to pay salary increases.
Boucher said that the government is also proposing a 2 per cent salary increase for 2016.
Boucher said that while the unions at Tuesday’s meeting all agreed in principle to the salary increase, the PSU will go back to its membership before making a final commitment to accept the government’s offer.
Boucher said the unions needed to test their members’ commitment to industrial action, hence the one-day strike.
“You see, this is a politically charged country, and in order to know precisely what is going to be the reaction of your members, there are times when you have to take action to test that out.”
He said the results of the strike showed that public sector workers, especially those within the Public Service, went to work for three reasons.
Boucher said some were fearful of losing their jobs, adding that public are fearful.
“Persons called the union and asked about the security of their job. They were fearful. And it’s no secret that public servants operate in an environment of fear
“Many persons fear victimisation and that is what we have been operating under for years,” Boucher said.
He further said that persons went to work because their loyalty lies with the political party.
“They see this as a strike against their party. Not a strike to deal with issues affecting workers — a strike against a political party. That’s a frightening thing in this country, because party comes and party goes and the union still has to stand up on behalf of workers,” Boucher told reporters.
The PSU leader said that some workers said they would like the payment to be made but did not think the country could afford it and decided not to take industrial action, adding that he has “the utmost respect for that position.
“But the success of the strike was not dependent entirely on persons coming out, because the union got a response, the government made an offer. Prior to that, there was no movement. You heard that nothing can be done, but today, coming from the meeting yesterday, an offer is on the table for us to take to the membership.”
Boucher said the position adopted by the government on Tuesday was the one originally proposed by the unions.
He said the unions were always interested in a salary increase but only put the one-month salary increase on the table after the government said it could not afford the payment.
He told reporters that a salary increase is more beneficial to all public servants because it puts them in a better position at retirement.
Update: An earlier version of this story said government is also proposing a 4 per cent salary increase for 2016. The government is actually proposing a 2 per cent increase for 2016.