The day on which the government is proposing to pay public servants a 2.5 per cent salary increase for 2015 will be among the issues that members of the Public Service Union (PSU) will discuss at an emergency meeting on Friday.
President of the PSU, Elroy Boucher, said that Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, Ralph Gonsalves, is proposing to make the payment on Dec. 18.
The offer was made on Tuesday, one week after the PSU and the Teacher’s Union staged a one-day strike, which Gonsalves said was a “failure”.
The unions, however, said the industrial action had a serious impact on productivity in schools and the public service and credited it for the offer that the government has now put on the table.
The proposed salary increase will be the first given to public sector workers since 2011.
Gonsalves has repeatedly said that he will allow Vincentians to elect a new government before the March 2016 constitutional deadline, adding that the electorate will go to the polls before year-end.
But unless Gonsalves has had a change of heart since Sunday, Vincentians can expect to vote on or before Dec. 13 — the five-year anniversary of the last general elections.
The 2.5 per cent salary increase replaces a one-month tax-free salary payment that the PSU and the Teachers’ Union were demanding in lieu of salary increases since 2011.
The unions had said that they wanted the payment before the general elections, noting that the salary situation developed under the Unity Labour Party (ULP) administration and should be resolved under it.
They further noted that they did not know what choice the electorate will make at the polls.
But Gonsalves had said the proposal amounted to EC$25 million, which his government was unable to afford before 2016.
Asked at a news conference on Wednesday whether a non-ULP administration would be bound by Gonsalves’ offer, Boucher said:
“When I listened to the offer that was being made, all that you are saying there came to my mind.
“If you make a statement to say this has to be paid before election, when is the date for election? I really don’t know. I believe, just like you, that it will be called later this year.”
But Boucher was reminded of Gonsalves’ statements regarding when elections will be called, and one journalist, putting it bluntly, said: “In other words, do you think the prime minister is trying to trick the unions to get back at the table and on the good side of the unions?”
“It’s a question that has been on my mind that I have grappled with, in a sense, because I am opposed to such behaviour. I have said it clearly — making a promise which is contingent on your not being in office possibly. If it is not done within your time, I have a problem with that.”
He said the matter will be discussed at the meeting on Friday.
“They will so direct on Friday what should be the response, which will be communicated to the prime minister before he goes and makes his statement on Tuesday,” Boucher said, suggesting that Gonsalves will announce the salary increase in his Independence Address on Tuesday.
Boucher said that the Director General of Finance and the Budget Director also attended Tuesday’s meeting.
He said unions were told that it is very difficult for the government to pay the one-month salary increase or half, “or any quantum below one month or even a higher percentage salary increase.
“They presented information that suggests that that was the difficulty and asked us to be, of course, understanding.”
Boucher said this is why the unions have to go back to its membership.
He said that at one point, a suggestion was made for a 6 per cent increase over 2014, 2015, 2016, and, as a compromise, forgetting about any increases for 2012 and 2013.
The government has proposed a 2 per cent salary increase for 2016, Boucher said.
Speaking at the same news conference, Joel Poyer, the union’s grievance officer, said that the unions were told that every one percentage point increase will cost the government EC$2.5 million and taxes should be another EC$1 million.
The union was asked how, in light of the Prime Minister’s previous statements, that the government will be able to finance the salary increase.
Poyer said the government told the unions that it has to find EC$50 million to pay salaries before the end of the year, but revenue generally increases in December.
“So December can see for itself – that’s what I am thinking — that he (Prime Minister) is basing on the intake for December he could go into an overdraft because he is sure of that money coming in because he can pay that.
“But he said for October-November is where the pinch is; that he will have to look somewhere to find that money to carry him through.”
Poyer said that was his reading of the situation but Gonsalves did not give any indication of how he will be able to finance the salary increase.
Ahead of the strike, the Prime Minister had repeatedly said that to pay the one-month, tax-free salary payment he would have had to reduce the allocations to or discontinue social programmes that benefit the poor.
The PSU had, however, maintained that if Gonsalves wanted to make the payment, he could have found a creative way to do so.
Poyer said that Gonsalves made the salary offer “after he was cornered”.
Negotiations began in late 2014.
“When we initially started, he refused to deal with anything about salary because he said he was in no position to negotiate salary. It’s after that broke down then he start putting that out in the public. He didn’t even come to us with that; he went to the public first—“
Boucher added: “Like I told the Prime Minister yesterday, the unions are delighted that he has finally come around to what our original position was. Delighted. And if he had done that from the beginning, a lot of stuff might have been avoided, because we would have been negotiating.”
Poyer further said:
“But as he said, he is a politician That’s how politicians think, especially in this season.