The three labour organisations representing the bulk of public sector workers in St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) have welcomed the salary increase and tax adjustments negotiated with the government.
The St. Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers’ Union, the Public Sector Union and the Police Welfare Association, said that while they had asked for a 9% increase over three years, they settled for 7%, having been convinced that that is what the government could afford.
The unions told a press conference in Kingstown, on Tuesday, that the negotiations concluded on Friday and public sector workers will receive a 2.5% increase in their pay packages next year, followed by 2% in 2024 and 2.5% in 2025.
Further, the government and the unions agreed to increase the personal income tax standard deduction to EC$22,000, up from EC$20,000.
Additionally, there is a reduction of the top personal income tax marginal rate to 28%, down from 30%.
The unions shared with the media a document from Minister of Finance Camillo Gonsalves, confirming the salary increases and tax adjustments.
The Office of the Prime Minister said on Wednesday that Gonsalves will brief the media on the outcome of the negotiations, on Thursday.
President of the Teachers’ Union, Oswald Robinson told the media that the Commercial, Technical and Allied Workers Union (CTAWU), the National Workers Movement and the nurses Association also attended the negotiations.
He, however, noted that the Teachers Union, PSU and the PWA submitted the proposal that formed the basis of the negotiations.
“Our expectations were high. Even though we did not realise what we set out to, that’s the nature of negotiations,” Robinson said.
“We didn’t want to go there and appear to be greedy and grab everything and then at the end of the day, we miss the status of the economy, the performance of the government,” he said.
He said that while the unions reviewed the government’s budgetary projections and “reputable organisations’” assessment of the economy “these are just predictions”.
“The reality is when you see it for yourself,” he said, adding that, for example, whereas the government was making a lot of money from value added tax in tourism and from hotel rooms, “we realised that tourism has not really done well.
“And you notice now, the cruise season has not really picked up as yet,” Robinson said.
He said that as the International Monetary Fund has said, there is a possibility of a recession and the union looked “the whole picture” and took “a holistic approach”.
Robinson said that the three unions, having concluded their preparations, negotiated based on five principles, the first of which was equity.
“We wanted to ensure that our workers in St. Vincent and the Grenadines benefit, even though we were, from our side here representing the public sector workers, we have to be our brother’s keeper, and to look out for every worker.”
He said that the negotiations were also guided by the government’s ability to afford what the unions were requesting.
“And coupled with that, we also have the principle of sustainability because you may ask for something now and then, over the next year or two, you realise you really put all the eggs in one basket, and we didn’t really want that to happen.”
The teachers’ union leader said that the unions wanted to be reasonable, and wanted respectful negotiations.
“… there was mutual respect right around the table. And that from my own vantage point, having been involved in several negotiations in the past, that one that we had last week Friday was very cordial. There was that listening ear on both sides. And we were able to deliberate in a very meaningful way and in good faith,” Robinson said.
Speaking at the same press conference, Corporal Germano Douglas, chair of the PWA, welcomed the increases but said he had hoped for more for his members.
“If you ask me if this is enough, I would say no. But given the principles as explained, sustainability, and the others of the finances, I would say, this is a start for us.”
Meanwhile, Gweneth Baptiste-Stoddard, 1st vice president of the PSU, who led her union’s team at the negotiation, also said that her union had hoped for more.
She, however, said what was agreed was acceptable in the circumstances.
“… we went in there, hoping to get 10% for two years, and then after, we were told, we cannot get for 2022, we went back to our team, along with the Teachers’ Union, and the Police Welfare. We sat down and we said we want 12% over the three-year period,” Baptiste-Stoddard said.
Robinson told the media that the union wanted a salary increase for this year also.
“… because when we look at the research, which shows that over the last decade, we had experienced the highest rate of inflation. And we know that this has drastically eroded the purchasing power of workers.
“But the economy was not in the sort of standing that would enable us to get a bonus,” Robinson said.
“We were asking for $500 one-off coming to the end of the year. But the government could not have afforded that.”
Robinson said that while the union had anticipated a higher increase, “given the fact that we have to look at what is sustainable, what is reasonable, and we have to spread it right across the board for private sector workers also to benefit.
“We know for sure that this increase would stimulate the economy, because you know that the workers have to go back and spend so government would reclaim. It may appear as if the government would have lost some money, but it’s not really lost. It is an investment. And when you make an investment, the returns would come,” the Teachers’ Union head said.