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Unions demand payment before general elections

Unions demand payment before general elections

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As public sector unions pile on the pressure for Government to pay their membership one month’s compensatory salary before the next general elections, union leaders have made another call for their membership to get ready for industrial action.

During a discussion on the Hitz Talk programme on Hitz FM on Sunday, public relations {{more}}officer of the St Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers Union (SVGTU) Wendy Bynoe said public sector workers have “sacrificed” during almost five years of a wage freeze, as their purchasing power has been significantly eroded.

Bynoe called on the Government to “re-channel” money normally spent elsewhere to pay the public sector workers and said if the estimated EC$25 million is paid to public sector workers, it will act as an economic stimulus, as the workers are likely to spend the money once they receive it.

“We also know that industrial action is still legal in St Vincent and the Grenadines; we can range from sick-outs to full blown strikes, and we are calling on the Government to re-channel some of the funds spent somewhere else to pay our teachers and public servants this one month….

“We ultimately have the power to ensure we get this money, so we are calling on our members to ready themselves because we need to get this money.”

President of the Public Service Union (PSU) Elroy Boucher, also speaking on last Sunday’s programme, dismissed claims that the unions had timed their demands to coincide with the upcoming general elections.

“This payment could have been made since January or February [2015]. It is not something that was timed to coincide with general elections.”

Boucher said the Prime Minister had been written to since December 2014 and reminded listeners that between 2011 and August 2015, there had been constant increases in the cost of living.

“It is becoming more and more difficult … for us to meet our basic needs…”

The union leader said whether the payment is made all at once or in installments, the Prime Minister needs to come up with a plan and put it to the unions.

“To say that he cannot afford is not acceptable. There has to be a way to get something done…

“You must bring something to the table and at this stage, we are not hearing anything as being put forward… Prime Minister, the unions… we are not going to accept what you are saying. The demand must be met. Some financial relief must be given and given before elections.”

President of the SVGTU Oswald Robinson said the unions have already envisaged victory and the payment they are demanding cannot be seen as something that works against the rest of society.

“…We are going to continue to mobilize, baring the fact that teachers and public servants are also important contributors to the society and the community and if one month salary compensation is paid for the patriotism, patience and reasonableness that we have demonstrated over the years, then this cannot be described as a disfavour to the rest of the Vincentian society. In contrary, it would be an asset because we have our families too; we are part of the society and therefore, we are seeking for socio and economic justice for our membership.”

He called on the workers of the country to seek out the SVGTU and PSU if they wanted to learn more about what they are pressing for and the merit of the demand.

“… Both unions here are prepared to provide leadership for you if your leadership is not coming to answer your questions. Let us move forward together with one voice, speaking the same language, and we will be victorious in the end.”

The public sector unions are demanding a one-off payment of one month’s tax free salary for all public servants, as compensation for not receiving a salary increase since 2011.

Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves told SEARCHLIGHT earlier this year that public servants, since 2001, have had enhancements in salaries ranging between 55 per cent and over 100 per cent. He said all of this has happened in an environment in which inflation has not gone up by more than one third.

“I would like to pay employees of the State more, but we have to do what is reasonable, affordable and fair.”

Early last month, Gonsalves said in Parliament that the union’s request was still under review after a joint communiqué in April stated that Government was unable to commit to the proposal. He further explained that the unions and the Government had reached an agreement to shelve the matter unless “there were some changes to the circumstances.”

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