Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves is calling on public servants to ignore the advice of their union to vote against his Unity Labour Party (ULP) government.
At a press conference last week Monday, Oct. 26, president of the Public Service Union, Elroy Boucher urged union members to vote against the government, saying it had treated labour unions with scant regard after coming to office with their support in 2001.
Amidst political unrest in 2000 that triggered early elections, the PSU and other trade unions in SVG had thrown their support behind the ULP, which went on to win the March 2001 general elections and has remained in office since.
Boucher said that the ULP had refused to meet with the union as requested recently, even as Opposition Leader Godwin Friday had accommodated them and had promised that a New Democratic Party (NDP) administration would address their concerns.
High among the union’s concerns is the refusal of the government to obey a court order against it, regarding the implementation of a proper system for promotion in the public service.
However, speaking at a ULP gospel concert on Sunday, Gonsalves urged civil servants to ignore Boucher’s advice, saying he was “campaigning for promotion”.
“Your union leader, he campaigning for promotion by the NDP,” Gonsalves said, adding that Boucher had lobbied him a couple years ago in an effort to be appointed head of the maintenance unit at the Milton Cato Memorial Hospital.
“He didn’t have the qualifications. They told me they didn’t want him to head it. They gave the reasons,” Gonsalves said.
“Ah say, ‘Boucher, I feel uncomfortable that you coming to me to lobby me to use political influence to get you promoted when you campaigning against political influence in promotion and the persons against whom you competing is also union members,” the prime minister said.
“Ah say ‘Nah man, yo’ cyar do it properly,” Gonsalves said, adding that Boucher did not call a meeting of the members of the union to arrive at the position he announced last week.
“…. when Friday using Boucher to see if he could get Boucher to chock him up, Friday, yo like a banana tree which falling down and you looking for a chock and the only chock you could find is Boucher, who himself wah chock up? They will get a master class in politics tonight. You hear me? Yo’ hear the I?”
At the press conference last week, Boucher said that the 2001 election was “quite remarkable” in that the trade unions joined with the ULP to remove the NDP from office over a 30% salary raise.
“That was the dispute initially. There was no commitment by the union leaders on behalf of workers. Who ended up benefiting? The workers didn’t benefit, the Union, as an organization, didn’t benefit. The individuals are who benefited — Lanceford Weekes, Fitz Jones, Audrey Gilkes.
“They are the ones who actually benefited. That’s why we are here struggling now. If they were mindful, and if we had the workers at heart, they would have gotten a commitment from then ULP on the issues that are so pertinent and important to workers.”
He said that unlike what happened in 2001, the PSU has, in writing, a commitment from the NDP to address the union’s concerns, if voted into office.
Boucher said that while the PSU had helped to shut down the country amidst the NDP’s promise of a 30% increase, civil servants have not received even 12% over two or three year period, which then prime minister Arnhim Eustace had said the country could afford.
“The workers have lost because of that alliance and the organisation lost because of that alliance, we must not make that mistake again. That is why even where we sit here now, we have a commitment in writing.
“… And it’s not about any individual. It’s about the mass members, the workers in a service, the workers in the statutory corporation. It is about them, creating the sort of environment that can help the unions to collectively bargain on behalf of the masses. That’s the whole intention,” Boucher said.