Head of the Public Service Union (PSU), Elroy Boucher has noted that neither the National Workers Movement (NWM) nor the Commercial Technical and Allied Workers Union (CTAWU) can negotiate salaries for public servants, teachers, and police officers.
Boucher made the point on Tuesday at a press conference in Kingstown, where he commented on the announcement by Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves that his government and the NWM and CTAWU reached an agreement last Friday on salary increases of 1 per cent for half of 2018, 1.5 per cent for 2019 and 2 per cent for 2010.
The PSU, along with the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers Union and the Police Welfare Association, stayed away from the meeting after being told on arrival at the office of the prime minister, where the meeting was being held, that they could not take their mobile devices into the talks.
The Joseph “Burns” Bonadie-headed CTAWU, and the NWM, which is headed by Noel Jackson, participated in the talks along with the prime minister, Minister of Finance, Camillo Gonsalves, Minister of Labour, Saboto Caesar, and other technical officers of the government.
The unions have said that it was the first time in over a decade of salary negotiations that they were being told that they could not take cellular phones into the meeting.
Boucher told Tuesday’s press conference that three unions decided that they would not leave their cell phones with the prime minister’s police security detail “for numerous reasons”.
He said he had seen the joint statement issued by the government, the CTAWU and the NWM on Monday.
“The NWM and the CTAWU cannot negotiate on behalf of public sector workers. I want to make that clear, firstly. Secondly, nowhere in our history of having salary negotiations and discussions have we been part of a negotiation, or a negotiating team with those two unions.”
Boucher has accused the Gonsalves government of repeatedly legislating salaries.
He said that the last time the unions representing public sector workers “negotiated properly, in the full essence of what a negotiation is” was in the reclassification exercise a decade ago.
“It was the Teachers’ Union, the Police Welfare Association, and the Public Service Union,” Boucher said, adding, “Nowhere was there a CTAWU or the NWM because they do not represent bona fide public officers.”
Boucher said that if last Friday’s talks were “truly a negotiation, as has been stated in some media, the moment it broke down before the start of a meeting, it would have to be restarted.
“Because you cannot negotiate in the absence of a negotiating partner and the negotiating partners for the public sector workers and the police are the Teachers Unions, the Public Service Union and the Police Welfare Association.
“So what transpired there and was put out in the media is a farce, is a joke, is a mockery.”
He further noted that Bonadie – who is head of the National Workers’ Institute for Research and Education — is the advisor to the government on labour issues.
“Burns Bonadie is a political operative for the ULP and in that regard, he is rewarded and he sits on a radio programme for the ULP from time to time. Noel Jackson is also a political operative,” Boucher said.
Both Bonadie and Jackson are hosts of Shake-up, a programme on WE FM, that is supportive of Gonsalves’ Unity Labour Party.
“And I say to you, no respectable trade unionist, nowhere in this world will sit down and agree, after a salary freeze, to 1 per cent for half a year for any worker. It would never happen. It is the first time in St. Vincent and the Grenadines I have really heard about a 1 per cent being offered.
“Effectively, what has happened, you had zero per cent for 2017, in which you had 3 per cent inflation. So nothing to compensate for the loss in earning power for 2017, and you had 1 per cent, which is effectively, like a 0.5 per cent, because it is 1 per cent for half year… and that would happen in 2018.
“So they, in my view, sat there, wearing their ULP political hat, not as trade unionists. And journalists could do the research to see if Burns has ever negotiated a 1 per cent increase for any of the private sector workers that he represents, or even Noel. That would be rejected forthwith. They are political operatives.”
Boucher said the prime minister’s action is that of “an autocrat”.
“He gives no concern to the democratic process or the spirit of negotiations. None whatsoever. To take two entities that are not related to the public sector union and say that you have reached an agreement with them on behalf of workers whom their respective unions have not been part of that arrangement, makes you an autocrat. You behave like a dictator. That is what we have come to. Basically, no respect for democratic processes. No respect for the simple collective bargaining arrangements.”
Boucher said that, in 2015, he went to a meeting with the prime minister on a salary issue.
He said Bonadie attended the meeting in his capacity as the advisor to the prime minister on labour matters, “trying to broker a settlement between the unions and the prime minister.
“That was his function…. He was there trying to be the middleman when everything had broken down. But now, conveniently, he is representing the CTAWU. And I submit that is not the hat he was wearing there.”