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Union leaders say no other trade union can negotiate on their behalf

Union leaders say no other trade union can negotiate on their behalf
Wendy Bynoe (left), SVGTU president and Elroy Boucher, PSU president (Right) Station Sergeant Brenton Smith, the chairman of the PWA

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Leaders of three unions representing public sector workers in St Vincent and the Grenadines say that no other union can negotiate on their behalf.

And they are dissatisfied with the salary increase agreed upon in a meeting last Friday.

Representatives from the Public Service Union (PSU), the St Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers’ Union (SVGTU) and the Police Welfare Association (PWA) chose not to attend a meeting with government officials on Friday, after being told that they had to surrender their cellular phones before going into the meeting.

The meeting went on as scheduled with representatives from the Commercial Technical and Allied Workers’ Union (CTAWU) and the National Workers Movement (NWM). And it was agreed that public servants would receive a one per cent increase retroactive from July 1, 2018, 1.5 per cent from January 2019, and two per cent for 2020 on their salaries.

“…The unions represented, cannot [negotiate] for the public sector unions because they do not represent them. So if it was in the spirit of true negotiation style, that cannot work. That is misleading. No negotiation took place there,” Wendy Bynoe, SVGTU president told SEARCHLIGHT yesterday.

The CTAWU and the NWM is mostly representative of daily paid workers or non-pensionable workers.

“I don’t believe there was negotiation at that meeting. That’s not how negotiation works. Negotiation works in this way: the unions will have a figure, they go in with that figure. The unions will have a negotiating team, the government will have a negotiating team and we go back and forth; we want this, we can give that…that was a meeting designed to tell us that we were going to get one per cent,” Bynoe said.

The SVGTU president said that when she attended meetings in her previous capacity of PRO of the Union, persons were never asked to surrender their phones.

She said that mobile devices have many other uses other than making and receiving calls. In her specific case, she said that she uses her mobile device to access documents.

And the three organizations that chose not to attend the meeting agreed that mobile devices were personal items and privacy was an important consideration in their decision-making on Friday.

The one per cent increase comes in significantly below the percentage being considered by the Unions. Bynoe said that that her union intended to request 5.5 per cent in 2019 and 4.4 per cent in 2020 because teachers have not benefitted from a salary increase for some time.

“We know that one per cent of every $100 is $1 so every $1,000 is $10. We are aware that for the first part of last year, the inflation rate was over three per cent and by September, at the end of September 2018, it was 2.3 per cent,” she said.

“How do you break even? What was $100 prior to that period is now $102.30 so if you’re getting $101 now, how are we going to reconcile that? How are we going to see that this is an increase? Really and truly, it isn’t because it cannot even break even with the inflation rate.”

Station Sergeant Brenton Smith, the chairman of the PWA echoed similar sentiments and he described the salary increase as “a total insult”.

Smith told SEARCHLIGHT that his association was hoping for 10 per cent increase over 2018 and 2019; 5 per cent in each year.

“To give us a one per cent increase in 2018 is a total insult to the people of St Vincent and the Grenadines, in particular The Police Welfare Association and its membership,” he said.

He said that a police officer with a starting salary of $1,800 will essentially receive $18 on his salary. The chairman added that the increase was not tax free and the backpay from July 2018 will only amount to a little over $100.

“We did not go to negotiate for whatever reason and that’s the best that the government can give to the people they love so much? $18? It’s a total insult,” the PWA chairman said. “The civil service, the public service and the police need to wake up and think critically as to what is taking place in regards to salary, allowances and pension…”

Smith does not believe that the outcome would have been any different if the unions gave up their cellular phones and chose to attend the meeting.

He said that in the past, there was a “take it or leave it” attitude and so, if he were to judge from previous encounters, their attendance would not have made a difference in the outcome.

Elroy Boucher, PSU president also shared his views on the issue while speaking on the morning show on Xtreme Radio yesterday.

The PSU president said that his union would not have agreed to the one per cent increase. He added, however, that they were informed that a similar proposal was going to be tabled by government.
“The other unions cannot negotiate for public servants and thats the point I’m making. If this really was truly a negotiation and the three unions that you are going to negotiate with are not there, you can’t continue. It stops,” he said.

Boucher, like the other leaders, said that the Prime Minister is rarely open to negotiation. He said that the only time negotiations have taken place was when there were negotiation teams for the government and unions.

“There’s nothing surprising that has happened there. In 2015, when we had the big impasse and strike action, we went for a meeting and the prime minister he put a figure on the table, floated an idea, didn’t even want to state; just floated an idea, suppose this and suppose that and at the time, we said no, that’s 4 and a half percent, that is not enough,” he said. But anyway, if that is what you want us to accept, we will have to go back to our membership. He (the Prime Minister) made the point that this has nothing to do with membership; this is what I’m doing. I’m not going to wait until you go back to our membership. This is what I am doing and they wanted us …it is what has always been happening.”

Persons calling into the radio programme expressed mixed reactions in relation to the actions of the public sector unions.

One caller said that she was leaving the PSU because of the decision its leadership made on Friday.

“…We are polarised and once you standing up for anything concerning this administration, there are too much people who want to boil it down like its politics, but it is time for somebody to stand up,” one caller said. “If you doing something for the public interest. This is a government who talking so much about transparency. What you have to hide? What can you say in that meeting that you doesn’t want we out here to hear?”

Another caller alleged that the unions were engaging in a game of party politics.

“As a union member, when was that made? Made by who? Was the union members consulted? You guys are carrying down this as a personal thing between you and Ralph. It ain’t no longer Ralph. Put your country before your party. We need to get rid of this ignorance. Mr Boucher, you ain’t go there, you didn’t go, now I getting a one per cent. I could have gotten a two per cent if you were there. I mean come on. You are a bigger man. You don’t know Mr Boucher, you were not there. If you were there…you cant know that we wouldn’t have gotten it,” the caller said.

But Boucher insists that the outcome of the increase would not have changed, had the unions attended the meeting.

The three union leaders say they will hold discussions with their members to make a decision on the way forward.

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