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Elroy Boucher, president of the Public Service Union speaking at the press conference in Kingstown on Tuesday, May 28, 2024.
Elroy Boucher, president of the Public Service Union speaking at the press conference in Kingstown on Tuesday, May 28, 2024.
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The Public Service Union (PSU) is questioning whether Deputy Prime Minister Montgomery Daniel knows what it means when one says a person “stormed” a place.

Union Leader Elroy Boucher made the point at a press conference in Kingstown on Tuesday, where he denied Daniel’s claim that he (Boucher) stormed the government printery at Campden Park on May 16.

Speaking on NBC Radio on May 22, Daniel said that on May 16, when he was acting as prime minister, he received a call that Boucher had “basically stormed the Government Printery.

The acting prime minister said he was informed that Boucher had “requested a meeting with the authorities because he had interest in the workers of the printery”, which was set for noon to 1 p.m., the workers’ lunchtime on May 16.

“And so, the President of the Public Service Union, Mr. Boucher turned up at 1:30, outside of the agreed time, of course.

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“And my understanding is that instead of apologising for his lateness, he went on to the compound into the building and disrupted work at the printery.”

Daniel said he was told that the printery manager acted quite sensibly and “asked him to come to his office so that they can have some discussions as to how they both can proceed.

“But he refused and went into the building and disrupted the work at the printery.”

Daniel, who was acting as prime minister as Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves was overseas, said, “even in the absence of the prime minister, … the laws of St. Vincent and Grenadines have not changed. They remain the same.”

However, Boucher told the press conference that there was no agreement between the PSU and the printery to meet with the workers during their lunch break.

He said the union had failed in its efforts, through the Cabinet Secretary, to hold a meeting at the printery to discuss pension reform with the workers.

Therefore, as a form of industrial action, the union set the meeting for 1:30 p.m. and informed the government printer, Errol Commissiong, of its decision.

Commissiong wrote back saying that the meeting would take place at 12:30, Boucher said, telling the media that the PSU disregarded this as the union was holding the meeting as a form of industrial action and did not need permission to do so.

Seven members of the union’s executive attended the meeting, Boucher said, adding that some of them arrived ahead of the 1:30 p.m. start, but he was not among that group.

Workers were ‘really, really anxious to see us’ – vice president

Gwenneth Baptiste-Stoddard, first vice president of the PSU, who was among the first group of PSU executive members to arrive at the printery, told the press conference that the staff was “really, really anxious to see us”.

She said that when they arrived, she went inside to speak to Anson King, who told her that she needed to go upstairs to speak with the person in charge.

Baptiste-Stoddard said the government printer told her that they were supposed to have been there at 12:30 and it was after 1 p.m. and he was only allowing the union to meet with the staff during the lunch break.

The union vice-president told the media that she explained to Commissiong that they were “late” because they were dealing with some important issues with the National Insurance Services (NIS) and “couldn’t make it before then.

“He said, ‘Well, we can’t do anything to that,'” Baptiste-Stoddard said, adding that she asked Commissiong about having the meeting outside the building.

“He said no, that is taking away people’s time as well.”

Gwenneth Baptiste Stoddard
Gwenneth Baptiste-Stoddard, first vice president of the Public Service Union speaking at the press conference in Kingstown on Tuesday, May 28, 2024.

Baptiste-Stoddard said she called the union’s second vice president, Desrita Gilkes Boucher, who was with Boucher at the NIS meeting and told her what had happened, but Gilkes Boucher did not get back to her, as promised.

“So, the young worker had a conversation with the gentleman, Mr. Commissiong, and she came and said, ‘Stoddard he said we could only have five minutes.'”

Baptiste-Stoddard said she asked what five minutes could do.

“So, we went back downstairs and I started having a conversation with the people. And the young lady said, Stoddard, I’m timing you, five minutes.”

She said she explained to the printery staff that the meeting was actually at 1:30 but Commissiong had said 12:30.

“But the workers want more than that time. So, when the five minutes was up, we went outside, the workers came outside,” Baptiste-Stoddard said.

“They came outside to have a conversation with us. And then is when the president arrived.”

Meeting took place instead of striking

Boucher said that before scheduling the meeting, the PSU had been asking since 2017 to meet with the printery staff.

“And each time we’re being told that permission was denied,” he said, adding that this became the case since Kattian Barnwell-Scott became Cabinet Secretary.

“… we would normally write the government printer, who would allow the meeting to be held either during a staff meeting or sometimes at three o’clock,” Boucher said.

“… And what we discovered is that when we write the government printer, the government printer refers us to the cabinet secretary, stating that they do not have the authority to make such a decision,” Boucher said.

He told the media that this was the case even as the workers kept complaining that the union was neglecting them.

“We had to explain that we have been trying our utmost best to get the permission to have the meeting.”

Boucher said they were unable to secure a meeting with the workers at the printery even as the PSU had been meeting with public servants throughout the public service and had no problems meeting with different persons.

“In fact, we would often be given time, again, either at two o’clock or during the staff meeting, to have discussions with the workers to inform them of the proposed plans of the government to reform the NIS pension system or the public service pension system.”

Boucher said that the information his union had to share was critical to the workers. 

“In 2024, the workers got fed up of it and insisted that we come to the printery, just turn up to the printery, and have the meeting,” Boucher said, adding, “Now, this is termed as a form of industrial action.”

He said the workers could have called a strike, but the union decided that was not the way to go “because a meeting is only gonna take like an hour and a half”.

Boucher said that the members of the PSU executive who were at the meeting with the NIS arrived on time for the 1:30 start of the meeting at the printery.

“We went into the printery. People were sitting waiting for us to have the meeting. There were one or two persons who continue to work at their desk, which is the norm when we have meetings at the printery,” Boucher said.

He said that when they entered the printery, Commissiong came out of an upstairs office and gestured to him.

“I really did not know what he was saying. We proceeded with the meeting because our mandate then was to proceed with the meeting,” Boucher said, reiterating that the union saw it as a form of industrial action.

“So, the meeting took place. It’s a fruitful meeting, as I said, we heard from the workers we discussed matters relating to the NIS pension reform, brought them up to date.”

He said the meeting lasted about 1 hour and 45 minutes and during that time no one told the union executive to leave or the workers to return to their duties.

Boucher said the workers were concerned about the reform of the Public Service pension system because most of them are pensionable.

“And we were able to give them the information and minimise the anxiety… 

“Mr. Daniel stated that the president stormed the printery. I am not sure if Montgomery Daniel understands what is the meaning of storming a building…

“And if it does, then I will take it that he’s just being dramatic. Because storming a building speaks to a large number of persons forcefully and violently entering a building or a compound somewhere and creating issues to take over the building.

“There were only seven of us at the meeting — seven executive members. It’s not 100. It’s not 50,” Boucher said.

“And the workers waited, and in fact, many of the workers came out and escorted the executive into the building.

“So, again, it’s very confusing to me his use of the word ‘storm the printery’.”

Boucher said that International Labour Organization conventions, to which SVG is a signatory, give workers the right to form or join a trade union.

The conventions also say that workers must be given time to meet with their union.

“It’s part of the trade union function to meet with the workers, not after hours, not occupying their lunch. It’s supposed to be a collaboration between management and the trade union, working together to achieve the company’s objectives, which should not be at the expense of the worker,” Boucher said.

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