Trade unionists in talks outside the Financial Complex after the development on Friday. (iWN photo)

The executives of the three trade unions representing public sector workers in St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) on Friday refused to surrender their cellular phone to security at the office of Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves ahead of a planned meeting with him.

Gonsalves had, on Monday, invited the Public Service Union, the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers’ Union (SVGTU), and the Police Welfare Association (PWA), to discuss labour matters, ahead of the Budget presentation by the Finance Minister, Camillo Gonsalves, on Jan. 29.

The unions were invited to the meeting amidst plans by the SVGTU and the PSU to stage a picket outside Parliament during the Budget presentation.

However, when the executives of the unions turned up to the meeting Friday afternoon, the police security at the Office of the Prime Minister, told them that they had to surrender their cellular phones before entering the talks with Gonsalves.

“There was no meeting simply because when we arrived at the Prime Minister’s office we were told by the security officer that if we don’t leave our cellphones, there wouldn’t be any meeting,” Wendy Bynoe, president of the SVGTU told iWitness News outside the Financial Complex, where the prime minister’s office is located.

She said that this was a new requirement, as union representatives have never been asked to surrender their cellphones before attending meetings with the prime minister.  

Bynoe said the trade unionists inquired as to the reason for surrendering their phones but got no response.

She said that the unions will “regroup, strategise for the next day” but emphasised that “the picket is on for the 29th of January, 3:30 p.m. in front the house of Parliament.”

She said the picket will be used to highlight pension reform, adding, “We need answers on that.”

The unions will also seek answers to a salary increase proposal, as well as promotion and appointments in the teaching service.

And, President of the PSU, Elroy Boucher  said it was a “shock” that the trade unionists were asked to leave their phones with the prime minister’s security detail.

“I have never experienced that before and it was difficult to comply with it,” Boucher said.

“We come to the meeting, we have other engagements; we expect to be called. In fact, I have my daughter in class so I really couldn’t comply with that. I really didn’t understand that.”

He said the issues of pension reform and salaries were important to his union.

Boucher said his executive was hoping to hear from the government where they are regarding pension reform and any other developments in that area.

Boucher suggested that the government put a negotiating team in place.

“That is what is done normally. I think that is how he really should behave in that regard. Get a negotiating team to meet with the union, negotiating salaries and have a discussion on pension issues.”

Station Sergeant Brenton Smith, chair of the PWA told iWitness News he was also “shocked” when the prime minister’s security told them they could go no further with their cellphones.

“So I indicated that I didn’t see the security breach … so I would not be going to the meeting unless my phone is with me.”

He said the security officer informed him that the prime minister had said that if the phones were not left with the security guards the meeting would not have taken place.

The PWA was hoping to raise with the prime minister the issue of suspended police officers who are yet to be reinstated even after winning their various matters on appeal.

“I was really hoping that we would have been able to discuss that,” he said.

He added: “There are some rural constables who were sent home. Some are still on the bread line. We were hoping to raise those issues because it’s very critical to some of the members. There is a level of instability with regards to people who are not sure what is going to happen to them.”

Smith, however, said that the main issues were pension and salaries.

“And our members were looking forward to those two, because those are critical in terms of persons’ livelihoods. So we were really looking forward for those.”

Smith said he does not think it is his duty to seek clarification from the prime minister regarding why they had to leave their phone with security.

He noted that it was the prime minister who had invited the unions to the meeting.

Smith said the invitation letter did not indicate that they had to leave their mobile phones outside the meeting.

“In fact, I want to indicate this: the note in the waiting area of the prime minister said that all phones should be placed on silent or switched off. It never said that you can’t take it into the meeting at all. So I am really surprised at that.”

iWitness News noted that it had published, last year, a series of articles based on what it had described as “a record” of a closed door meeting with public sector unions and the prime minister and minister of finance.

Smith said that if the decision at the prime minister’s office was informed by that, they did not indicate so.

“And, even if that was the issue, what is secretive about this meeting? We still have to report back to the general membership of our various associations and unions. “There is nothing wrong in telling the public what happened because the public has an interest in this too. I don’t see the secret in this at all.”

Gonsalves was unavailable for comment when iWitness News called his office Friday afternoon.

His staff said he was in a meeting. 

Gonsalves had on Monday invited the Public Service Union, the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers’ Union (SVGTU), and the Police Welfare Association (PWA), to discuss labour matters, ahead of the Budget presentation by the Finance Minister, Camillo Gonsalves, on Jan. 29.

The unions were invited to the meeting amidst plans by the SVGTU and the PSU to stage a picket outside Parliament during the Budget presentation.

However, when the executives of the unions turned up to the meeting Friday afternoon, the police security at the Office of the Prime Minister, told them that they had to surrender their cellular phones before entering the talks with Gonsalves.

“There was no meeting simply because when we arrived at the Prime Minister’s office we were told by the security officer that if we don’t leave our cell phones, there would be any meeting,” Wendy Bynoe, president of the SVGTU told iWitness News outside the Financial Complex, where the prime minister’s office is located.

She said that this was a new requirement, as union representatives have never been asked to surrender their cellphones before attending meetings with the prime minister.  

Bynoe said the trade unionists inquired as to the reason for surrendering their phones but got no response.

She said that the unions will “regroup, strategise for the next day” but emphasised that “the picket is on for the 29th of January, 3:30 p.m. in front the house of Parliament.”

She said the picket will be used to highlight pension reform, adding, “We need answers on that.”

The unions will also seek answers to its salary increase proposal, as well as promotion, and appointments in the teaching service.

And, President of the PSU, Elroy Boucher, said it was a “shock” that the trade unionists were asked to leave their phones with the prime minister’s security.

“I have never experienced that before and it was difficult to comply with it,” Boucher said.

“We come to the meeting, we have other engagements; we expect to be called. In fact, I have my daughter in class so I really couldn’t comply with that. I really didn’t understand that.”

He said the issues of pension reform and salaries were important to his union.

Boucher said his executive was hoping to hear from the government where they are regarding pension reform and any other developments in that area.

Boucher suggested that the government put a negotiating team in place.

“That is what is done normally. I think that is how he really should behave in that regard. Get a negotiating team to meet with the union, negotiating salaries and have a discussion on pension issues.”

Station Sargent Brenton Smith, chair of the PWA told iWitness News he was also “shocked” when that the prime minister’s security had told them they could go no further with their cellphones.

“So I indicated that I didn’t see the security breach … so I would not be going to the meeting unless my phone is with me.”

He said the security officer informed him that the prime minister had said that if the phones were not left with the security the meeting would not have taken place.

The PWA was hoping to raise with the prime minister the issues of suspended police officers who are yet to be reinstated even after winning their various matters on appeal.

“I was really hoping that we would have been able to discuss that,” he said.

He added: “There are some rural constables who were sent home. Some are still on the breadline. We were hoping to raise those issues because it’s very critical to some of the members. There is a level of instability with regards to people who are not sure what is going to happen to them.”

Smith, however, said that the main issues were pension and salaries.

“And our members were looking forward to those two because those are critical in terms of person’s livelihoods. So we were really looking forward to those.”

Smith said he does not think it is his duty to seek clarification from the prime minister regarding why they had to leave their phone with security.

He noted that it was the prime minister who had invited the unions to the meeting.

Smith said the invitation letter did not indicate that they had to leave their mobile phones outside the meeting.

“In fact, I want to indicate this: the note in the waiting area of the prime minister said that all phones should be placed on silent or switched off. It never said that you can’t take it into the meeting at all. So I am really surprised at that.”

iWitness News noted that it had published last year a series of articles based on what it had described as “a record” of a closed door meeting with public sector unions and the prime minister and minister of finance.

Smith said that if the decision at the prime minister’s office was informed by that, they did not indicate so.

“And, even if that was the issue, what is secretive about this meeting? We still have to report back to the general membership of our various associations and unions. “There is nothing wrong in telling the public what happened because the public has an interest in this too. I don’t see the secret in this at all.”

Gonsalves was unavailable for comment when iWitness News called his office Friday afternoon.

His staff said he was in a meeting.

7 replies on “Trade unions’ meeting with PM cancelled over cell phones”

  1. Ralph is just stalling and to manipulate any situation so he can wean his way out.its disgusting how a minister deal with situations affecting the country.its like child’s play. And people still supporting him while he continues to make a mockery of the Vincentian people and it’s gov

  2. This is beyond stupid. The Unions rather picketing, hence, supporting unproductivity in the economy rather than finding simple solutions for this basic problem.

    Ever thought of putting your phones individually in separate envelopes with your names written on the envelope? Rules are rules and should be adhered to.

    The Unions appeared to be in a disruptive mode rather than a constructive one. EDUCATION is not COMMON SENSE.

    Gus.

  3. The Comrid say St Vincent did well and had economic growth of over 2% last year. Comrid time to put your money way you mouth day..give the teachers and public servants a good salary increase..nice them up Comrid..people fed up ah the long talk.

  4. Now what kind of approach to negotiations is that. You were sent there to negotiate on behalf of the people and when you get there you throw a fit and leave without even meeting the person that you were to meet with.

  5. You must remember that dear Ralphy boy is a self confessed liar. He also has a background of mistreating the unions, remember the teachers contract. When he told the teachers there contract was the best contract they had ever had. Then when it came to enforcing sections of the contract they were told the contract was unconstitutional and therefore unenforceable.

    It is necessary that all meetings with Gonsalves are recorded, because he may well deny what he says later.

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