As St. Vincent and the Grenadines looks to address public sector reform this year, the Unity Labour Party administration is settled on the view that one set of recommendations is fit for the rubbish heap: the findings of a study commissioned by the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States.
“We will appoint some fellas and some fells write a lot of rubbish. If you read a lot of the things they write there, I mean when I saw the presentation, I said you all are not serious. That was not approved, you know. OECS commission can do something, a very generalist kind of a — so I wouldn’t even. I myself, in discussion of pension reform; I wouldn’t even bother with the OECS,” Gonsalves told the public sector union last month during his government’s annual budget consultation.
His comments came as head of the Public Service Union Elroy Boucher, responded to Gonsalves’ suggestions about how his government would deal with the current pension arrangements, which both the union and the government have decided is unsustainable.
Gonsalves told the closed-door meeting that a class war could break out in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, saying that if pension reform is not undertaken, some retirees’ pension could be higher than their salaries were when they were working.
Boucher said his union is very mindful that other possibilities can be considered.
“We are also aware of the OECS commission on pension reform, what their findings were, even though that was a few years ago,” Boucher told the meeting, a record of which has been obtained by iWitness News.
“They write a lot of rubbish,” the prime minister said of the OECS Commission’s report.
Boucher, however, said that the governments of the OECS, of which St. Vincent and the Grenadines is a member, had commissioned the study.
He further said that during a recent meeting with his labour unions in SVG, Governor of the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank, Timothy Antoine, made some suggestions that are quite similar to what the commission came up with.
Gonsalves, however, said, “The point is this, I see something which they wrote which would even increase the number above the current numbers, the OECS pension reform.”
Boucher made it clear that his union is of the view that all public servants should be pensionable.
“Up to what percentage of your aggregate annual salary?” the prime minister asked.
“Which is what we can—” the union leader was saying, when Gonsalves interjected, “Well, that is the point. It depends on what the averages have been over a particular time series, particular time. Otherwise – well we are repeating ourselves – we are just going to run out of money.”
Head of the Commercial, Technical and Allied Workers Union, Joseph “Burns” Bonadie, told the meeting that it can be put in a straight way: “You can’t be paying a retired person more than they would have earned.”
“When we are having the discussion, we must look at the possibility of all public servants being pensionable, even though the numbers are reduced… such that when you have the combination of the two, people can stay above the poverty line when they retire,” said Bonadie, who is also an activist for the Gonsalves’ Unity Labour Party administration.