The salary increase for public sector workers that Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves announced in his Independence Address on Tuesday shows that the national coffers are empty, says Leader of the Opposition, Arnhim Eustace.
“The first thing I want you to note is the fact that the government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines does not have any money. They brokes,” he told a New Democratic Party rally in Rose Place last week.
In his Independence Address, Gonsalves announced a 2.5 per cent salary increase for 2015, retroactive to Jan. 1, to be paid on Dec. 18, and a 1.5 per cent increase for 2016.
The adjustments represent the first salary increase for public sector workers since 2011.
Addressing the rally, Eustace said:
When the Prime Minister, with much ceremony, announced that the teachers and civil servants will get 2.5 per cent and that will amount to $7 million but next year you are getting 1.5 per cent, he is giving 4 per cent in two years.”
Eustace pointed out the “clash” that he and the NDP administration had with Gonsalves’ Unity Labour Party (ULP) during salary negotiations for public sector works in 2000.
“… I was trying to give 12 per cent and Ralph say they want 30? Ralph now is offering them 4 for two years and have trouble being able to pay it.
“That is the point I want to make. With all the old talk and the sweet talk, today, 15 years later, he is struggling to pay 4 per cent to the civil service and the teachers of this country,” the former finance minister said.
He said that since 2000, the government has not paid anything close to 30 per cent.
Eustace said that when Gonsalves made the announcement, he thought that it had been accepted by the trade unions representing public sector workers.
He said he later learnt that this was not the case.
“So, there is no agreement. So what he is going to do is pass a law to implement that 2.5 per cent and that 1.5 per cent, which will make it 4 per cent. In the entire 15 years he never negotiated any settlement with the public servants for salaries.
“So all the old talk, all the lies come to naught because remember, the same man says he has $400 million to spend. So if you have to pay out 8 or 10 million and you have 400 million, ain’t no problem. So why he giving them 2.5 per cent? He is giving them that because he doesn’t have any more to give,” Eustace said.
He said he wants persons to notice that what Gonsalves said he is going to implement is coming after elections – expected by mid-December, ahead of the March 2016 constitutional deadline.
“And once we (NDP) win, it’s we who have to implement it. I want people to understand that and that is not an accident at all. So I want you to bear those things in mind, because all that glitters is not gold. And lies, depictive lies aimed at fooling the public of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, are disgusting.”
On Monday, the Public Service Union sent the government a proposal asking for 1.5 per cent salary increase for 2014, 2.5 per cent for 2015 and 2 per cent for 2016.
Eustace speculated about how Gonsalves would respond.
“… obviously, he is going to ignore them and just do what he feels like.”
Eustace reiterated that Gonsalves never negotiated any agreement with the public service for salaries since he came to office.
“And the same union leaders who were so hard in 2000 when we were trying to give 12 per cent, all of them mouth shut. They have nothing to say today because they can’t justify what they did — particularly fellas like Jackson and so on.
“Total waste of time in terms of looking out for the interest of their members; they are a total loss to this society as far as I am concerned. I have no respect whatsoever for what they have done. All of them now are dumb. Very dumb.”
Eustace noted that some executive members of the unions did not participate in a one-day strike called after negotiations broke down between the government and unions.
He said he had heard that some of those executive members had been promised promotion.
“People like that cannot represent anybody. They cannot represent anybody at all and all of them, the membership should remove those persons from the executive who went to work. They cannot represent the interest of the workers. There is no question about that…”
Eustace said he had given thought to the salary situation.
“I have my own proposal about how that should be done, but I am not saying anything about that. Ralph is always saying how much money he has, let him get the money and pay them.”
He noted that the unions had asked for one-month salary, tax-free in lieu of salary increases since 2011.
The government has said this would have cost EC$25 million.
“They will now get 9 million at the most over the two-year period,” Eustace said, adding that the
government will pass a law and pay in accordance with the law.
“So, sometime, all the glib talk you hear, the sweet talk, all the charisma and other crap you hear about that Ralph displays has nothing to do with us, it has nothing to do with our development as a people.
“Our experiences in life often determine what we are going to become and we don’t want on top of that, people who are going to fool us. And I am saying that the New Democratic Party will do no such thing…
“We can’t afford to be like that, otherwise our country will be lost. We have to have some moral fibre in our being. We have to be confident in our commitment to people whom we serve, very confident so that we are not shaken by little slings and arrows of misfortune…” he said.