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Go to work at your own risk – SVGTU president

Go to work at your own risk – SVGTU president

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Teachers and public servants who go to work today, Tuesday, October 13, have been warned by president of the St Vincent and the Teachers Union (SVGTU) Oswald Robinson that they do so at their own risk.

“The St Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers Union is withdrawing the services of its{{more}} members and those of you who choose to go, you are at your own risk. You will not be protected by the trade union, because the trade union has issued a statement to stay off the job,” said Robinson in an audio release issued by email.

Robinson could not be reached by telephone on Monday to clarify the comments, but explained in the release which was issued on Sunday night by the SVGTU’s Public Relations Officer (PRO) Wendy Bynoe that the SVGTU and the Public Service Union (PSU) have asked their members to stay away from work today.

Both unions decided last week to take industrial action today, as the Government has said that they cannot afford to give to teachers and public servants a one-month tax-free salary that will cost the Government EC$25 million.

The PSU and SVGTU are also protesting the fact that their members have not received salary increases since 2011 and the SVGTU’s and PSU’s strike, “is a way to show government’s lack or failure thereof to demonstrate it is indeed a labour government.”

Robinson said in the release that a 1966 International Labour Organization (ILO) and UNESCO recommendation concerning the status of teachers says (on page 12) that teachers’ salaries should be calculated on an annual basis and that salary scales for teachers should be reviewed periodically to take into account such factors as the rise in cost of living, increased productivity, leading to higher standards of living in the country or a general upward movement in wage or salary levels.

“I think the Government is trying to mislead the general public,” said Robinson, who stressed that public servants and teachers have not received any salary increase for the last four years.

“As a matter of fact, unions have been unable to negotiate salary. The Government has been legislating salary, which removes the right to collective bargaining by unions. As a result, our salary has been frozen and this has greatly affected pension and gratuity. It is interesting to note that the Government is making a statement that they are now interested in giving a salary increase, because it has implications for pensions and gratuity, but we were unable as a union under this Government to negotiate salaries, so that is very strange,” noted Robinson.

He explained that when the unions tried to negotiate salaries, they were unable to do so, “and that is why we ask for a compensation for the four years we have not received any salary increases.”

Robinson said that during a meeting, the Prime Minister had told them that their proposal was not unreasonable, “because you all are trade unions and you have to look out for your members,” while they were also told that the Government could not at that point afford the payout, but would look at the request at the end of the first quarter.

“The first quarter came and we wrote saying the end of the first quarter has come; then we went to a meeting. Nothing has changed and he kept saying let me catch my hand, but no real effort has been done by the Government to ensure that the workers of this country get that relief,” said Robinson, who is of the opinion that the purchasing powers of workers have declined.

“The point to point average rate of inflation in 2010 was 0.8 per cent, in 2011 it was 3.2 per cent and in 2012 it was 2.6 per cent. When we examine what happens around the Caribbean, the minimum wage in St Vincent and the Grenadines is the lowest in the OECS, we are paying the most taxes in the CARICOM states and we are paying taxes on items that some CARICOM states are not paying on,” Robinson offered, accusing the Government of constantly violating the collective agreement.

He said that over the years, the Union has had to step in to fight for members on all sorts of issues, including election leave, money issues and what they considered illegal removal of teachers.

“I want our Prime Minister to comment on the election leave. Why is it that our brothers and sisters have not been reinstated to their positions? The Otto Sam case is famous; this again has been violated by the Government of SVG. Then we have seen the short payment of end of year allowances for principals since 2010. The Government has short paid the principals in this country by $90; up to now this has not been honoured,” revealed Robinson, who also spoke about a female teacher who was sent to Union Island to work and not given her, “hard area allowance”. He said that this issue also demonstrated discrimination against women.

“From 2009 until 2014…there are many more cases, we could cite as failure of the Government to demonstrate that it is indeed representing the best interest of workers in this country,” said the SVGTU head, also noting that public servants’ salaries in SVG are among the lowest in the OECS.

“We have seen the performance of teachers, if we are going to use the example of exam results as a yardstick, but that is not the real yardstick we can use. The value of $100 is approximately $85. Inflation would have risen and our spending powers would have become less and therefore it clearly underscores the importance of the need for the Government to honour this request,” beseeched Robinson, himself a teacher.

He said that the decision for today’s strike was taken after no progress was achieved at the end of July this year.

“…Both unions took a decision to go back to their membership. The PSU went to its membership a week before the SVGTU. We went to our membership on September 2nd, Branch Day, and from that meeting a resolution emerged that gave a mandate to demand to do everything that is necessary to bring national regional and international attention to the issue.”

Both unions are said to have met Wednesday, October 7 and taken the decision to demand action in the context of trade unionism and Robinson said that as a result of their steadfastness, the Government is trying to divide the unions’ leadership.

“It is very sad that the Government has gone on its political platform to try and divide the leadership of both unions. It is very sad that it is going down this road, but it is too late to do so.”

Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves, during a meeting, commented that some persons were playing politics with the salary issue.

“We are calling on our members out there to take lead. The parents, we have already issued a press release, keep your children at home. We are asking all parents to cooperate with us. We are resolute, we stand firm together for the interest of our membership and the society. The Government has acknowledged our patience and the Prime Minister said we deserve it and we are moving forward with courage and by the will of God, we will receive our blessing,” said Robinson, who added that today’s strike will send a clear message to the Unity Labour Party (ULP) administration. (LC)

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