The two trade unions — each headed by a pro-government activist — that agreed to a salary increase of 1 per cent retroactive to July 2018, 1.5 per cent from January 2019, and 2 per cent for 2020, did not have any salary hike proposals of their own.
This was disclosed by Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves on Boom FM, on Thursday.
Gonsalves’ disclosure came two weeks after his government reached the salary agreement with the National Workers Movement
(NWM) and the Commercial Technical and Allied Workers Union (CTAWU), which represent mostly non-pensionable government workers.
The NWM and the CTAWU are headed by Noel Jackson and Joseph “Burns” Bonadie, both of whom are also hosts of “Shake-up” a daily programme on We-FM that is supportive of Gonsalves’ Unity Labour Party.
Bonadie is also the advisor to the government on labour matters and receives in excess of EC$80,000 of taxpayers’ money every year for his role in that regard.
The salary increases were agreed at a Jan. 11 meeting at the Office of the Prime Minister, which the representatives of the Public Service Union (PSU), the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers Union (SVGTU), and the Police Welfare Association (PSU) did not attend after being told, on arrival, that they had to surrender their mobile devices to the police security officer.
The three unions said this had never been a requirement at previous talks and neither were they alerted to the change in approach for the Jan. 11 meeting.
Speaking on radio on Thursday, Gonsalves gave insights into what transpired in the talks between his government and the NWM and the CTAWU.
“I outlined broadly the numbers and through a discussion and a give and take, we arrived at these numbers,” Gonsalves said.
The Teachers’ Union had sent the government a proposal for a 5.5 per cent salary increase in 2017, and 4.5 per cent in 2018.
The PSU was asking for a 10 per cent salary increase over two years — 2017 and 2018.
Asked if the NMU and the CTAWU had said what salary increase they would like for their members, the prime minister said:
“No. They didn’t come with that approach and made a demand up front as how the Public Service Union and the Teachers’ Union wrote up front and say they want five and five. They said, ‘Tell us what is the situation.’”
Asked if that is how unions negotiate on behalf of their numbers, the prime minister said yes.
“I gave them a detailed analysis of what the economy is, what the taxes we are collecting, what the pension payments we are making. I say, ‘This is the area. For every percentage point it costs roughly $3 million. Those are the parameters and let us try to work and when you come to it and you see these numbers …’”
Gonsalves said that Jackson and Bonadie did not propose numbers.
“But, in the process, we agreed on the numbers…”
Asked who first suggested a number, the prime minister said, “We were both suggesting numbers”.
Asked if it was a negotiation or a consultation, the prime minister said a negotiation.
“But, you know, modern trade unionism is not the way of some enterprises — and you know, one of the things with Burns and Noel, you know there are private sector entities where they are struggling to get 1.5 and 2 per cent… because they do negotiations. So they know what is happening in the economy as a whole.
“I want to tell you this: in the compensation for employees this year is going to be $319 million, above $302 million were the approved estimates in 2018. So you have about $17 million more…
“And in addition to that, you have $60 million in pensions. Well, transfer payments for pensions and NIS contributions. So, if you put these things together, its $370 million for salary, wages and retirement benefits.”
Asked what is Bonadie’s salary annually, the prime minister said he did not know it off-hand. Asked to approximate, he said, probably more EC$6,000 a month.
The prime minister said that Bonadie’s job includes advising the prime minister on a number of labour–related issues.
“And right now he is working with — he is doing work with respect to how can we prepare ourselves to implement the occupational Safety and Health Bill.”
The prime minister said he did not see any conflict in having his advisor as a negotiator across the table.
“I have found Burns to be very — in defence of his members very strong. He will say to me, ‘Prime Minister, this matter cannot go on like this with the workers. There is this category of workers and this is what is happening.