The Public Service Union has written to the government asking it to elaborate on the proposals for pension reform that it outlined in the 2018 Budget.
The union also says that it has taken several steps to “put our house in order where this matter is concerned and in order to prepare ourselves”.
These include writing to its lawyer requesting a legal opinion on Section 88 of the Constitution, which speaks to the protection of pension rights.
“We want to know how that is going to impact pension reform, because, from our layman’s reading of it, the Constitution says any changes that you are going to make to pensions paid from the Consolidated Fund must be better than the one that we have. And any new fund, you have to actually set up a new fund to pay such pension,” PSU president Elroy Boucher told a press conference on Wednesday.
The government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines is considering its options for pension reform as under the current system, some persons’ pension benefits are higher than their salaries.
Boucher said that his union has made it clear that it agrees that pension reform must be done.
“Clearly, no worker should be going home with a maximum of 127 per cent of their salary. That is untenable, that should not be happening. You can’t be making more in retirement that you were making when you were working. It will break the system; we understand that,” Boucher said.
He said that the Constitution says that pension is protected and the PSU wants to know to what extent it is protected.
Talks about the reform of the public pension system give the impression that the government is only talking about public officers, Boucher said.
“But the Constitution, when it speaks about the protection of the pensions for workers within the public service, mentions a set of workers.”
He said that the situation relates to persons who are not “regular in the public service”.
“We talk about the parliamentarians, the magistrates, judges, etc. Pension reform has to impact all of those persons. The pension reform must include all officers who are paid a pension out of the Consolidated Fund and we have to make sure that that is so, because it can be nothing else other than that,” Boucher said.
He said that the PSU has started consultations with public workers, adding that it is important for the union to educate its members and to hear their views.
“At the end of the day, when we sit with the government to negotiate — and I stress that word negotiate –we must be putting forward the position of the majority of public officers and not our own thinking.”
He said that the developments, a few years ago, surrounding the adjustment to the ages at which persons can begin accessing their National Insurance Services pension, show that the trade union has to be careful.
He said the NIS pensionable retirement age was moved from 60 to 65 over a time period.
“But the retirement age in the public service is 60. What we have seen is that the lowest income earning public servant — and the majority of them do not receive a public service pension –, they only receive an NIS pension when they retire at 60; they have to wait a five-year period to get their pensions. That is wrong. That is very wrong.”
Boucher said these workers already have low salaries and are already struggling.
“And during that three to five-year period, only God can help them during that interim because they will be unemployed.”
He said that if these persons decided to access their pension at age 60, they will lose 6 per cent for every year.
“That is cruel. It is a deterrent from taking [the pension], but you may not have a choice because you are literally living in poverty.”
Boucher said that the government made the decision without consulting the unions, adding that the government gave no thought to what workers including those employed by statutory corporations would do when they get to 60.