For the second time in as many decades, the Public Service Union (PSU) is urging its members and workers at large to vote for a change in government in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
Vincentian electors will go to the polls on Nov. 5 to elect a new government with the Unity Labour Party, which has been governing since 2010 with a one-seat majority, seeking a fifth consecutive five-year term in office.
The main New Democratic Party (NDP) is trying to return to government, after almost 20 years on opposition benches.
The PSU held a press conference in Kingstown on Monday, where its president, Elroy Boucher, said that the Ralph Gonsalves-led ULP has failed to meet with the union as requested to discuss labour and other social issues.
At the same time, the Godwin Friday-led NDP met with the union at the party’s headquarters, Democrat House, on Oct. 13, and committed, in writing, that if voted into office, the NDP would address the union’s concerns, including passing legislation against sexual harassment.
This is a reverse of the situation in 1998 and 2000, when the union, under different leadership, urged its members to vote against the NDP administration.
At Monday’s press conference, Boucher was flanked by the union’s public relations officer, Prudence Jeffrey, and Joel Poyer, a longstanding member of the union.
Boucher explained the intention of the 2,500-member union in requesting a meeting with each of the two main political parties.
“And our intention there was to seek to know what their position was on the issues. And based on what those positions were, based on how much they agreed to, to get a commitment from them on the number of issues, because these issues are extremely important to the public service union, and to workers,” he said.
The issues included collective bargaining and salary negotiations.
Boucher noted that in 1998, the PSU hosted a regional conference, where then opposition leader Gonsalves, as the guest speaker, said, “Unfortunately, too many Caribbean governments are unwilling partners in the process, and too many of them are actually hostile to genuine collective bargaining.”
On that matter, Friday, in his letter to the union, said, “With regard to the matters of collective bargaining, and salary negotiations, please be assured that the New Democratic Party regards both as fundamental to good labour relations and to maintain in an effective and highly motivated public service. Therefore, an NDP government will engage in all good faith, collective bargaining and salary negotiation in a respectful and timely manner, to address issues as they arise.”
The NDP has also responded favourably to the PSU on other matters including how a union representative to the Public Service Commission board is appointed; representation on the National Insurance Services board, and pension reform.
“The response of Dr. Friday, the NDP shows to us, as a union, that the NDP is willing to commit to addressing the issues if they prevail at the polls. Their approach is one that the PSU welcomes and we are hopeful about. We are convinced that they have demonstrated a concern for workers.”
He said that some persons might say that the NDP is speaking this way because this is an election year.
“But if you go, if you look back at the track record, even when Dr. Friday, as leader of the opposition or others, are making comments, even about the rape situation in the country, you will see what their position has always been,” Boucher said.
“As a result, and given what I have just stated, and given the failure to even acknowledge the letter written on these important issues, as a result, I wish to urge, to encourage our public officers and workers, in general, to vote for a change of government.
“Let me repeat, I wish to encourage and I urge all public servants and workers to vote for a change of government. It is in the best interest of the Public Service Union and the workers to do so. I urge all workers to vote for an end to victimisation in the Public Service. I urge all workers to vote for an end to nepotism, cronyism, favouritism in the promotion regime within the public service.
“I urge all workers to vote for the respect of the collective bargaining process in the Public Service. I urge workers to vote for the implementation of the Occupational Safety and Health Act. When you vote for a change of government, you’ll be voting for proper salary negotiations.”
Boucher said that in voting for a change of government, workers will be voting for a ratification of a number of International Labour Organisation conventions, including one that speaks to the violence against women and girls, “a situation that is a scourge to our beautiful country on the eve of independence”.
“A change of government will ensure that there is protection of wages of workers. This current government is a signatory to one of the conventions that protects wages — convention 95. But there is no law that gives effect to that convention.
“That is why we see the situation that occurred in Buccament. That’s why we see what’s happening in Canouan. If there was the law in place, the wages of the workers would be protected. The government has failed workers. And I cannot see a desire to re-elect the same regime that has failed the workers so miserably after almost 20 years.”
The trade unionist said that in voting for a change in government, workers would be casting their ballots for a sexual harassment act to protect women, and for the union to be brought in on National Insurance Services (NIS) reforms “that is so painful to vulnerable workers.
“We’ll be voting for fairness and merit based promotions and engagement, social dialogue with the government,” he said.
Boucher said he had looked at what has transpired over the past 20 years in the union’s interaction with the ULP administration.
“I have never encountered a more oppressive government when it comes to workers and the trade union movement, and the blatant attempts by the current government to weaken the public sector unions.
“That is why there’s no collective bargaining, because collective bargaining will show up our strength. The blatant disregard for a lot of the things that are so dear to workers, it’s quite painful and shocking to me. And I cannot see us want to continue that trend. I cannot see us as workers wanting to continue that trend,” Boucher said, and urged workers to put their interest first.
“And if they only put their interests first, they will have no difficulty voting for a change of government and voting, therefore, for the New Democratic Party who would address all of the issues that we have raised.”
Boucher said the position he expressed was that of the union and he was confident that most members would act on it.
“If the members think about their own interests, then they would have no difficulty responding because the facts are there,” he said.
“I am confident that good sense will prevail, and workers will be mindful of their own position. … Politicians, after nine and a half years, get their pension — nine and a half years, they get their pension and a nice gratuity, workers work through 30-something, and many of them get absolutely nothing.
“Is it fair? It can never be fair. It cannot be right; it’s wrong. They have a choice to make. And I’ve articulated what the position of the union is,” he said, adding that the union will not get everyone to adopt the position “because some persons are zealots, really when it comes to political parties.
“But their interest is what’s at stake,” Boucher said.