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Unions call strike for Tuesday; PM asks them to reconsider

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The leadership of the St Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers Union (SVGTU) and the Public Service Union (PSU) have called on their members to withdraw their services next Tuesday, October 13.

The call was communicated Wednesday night by way of a letter emailed to the media.{{more}}

“The St Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers Union (SVGTU) and the Public Service Union (PSU) took a decision on Wednesday 7th October 2015 to withdraw the services of their members on Tuesday October 13th 2015 due to the further delay of the one month tax free salary in lieu of no salary increase for the past four years.

“Both unions appeal for parents/guardians to keep their children/wards at home on this day. The SVGTU and PSU also extend a call to all teachers and public sector workers to withdraw their services as well,” a release signed by president of the SVGTU Oswald Robinson and PSU president Elroy Boucher stated.

On Thursday during a telephone interview with SEARCHLIGHT, Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Dr Ralph Gonsalves said that in his opinion, the move is ill advised.

“First of all I am disappointed to hear that the leadership of the SVGTU and PSU … have decided to call a day of protest. The decision is in my view ill-advised and contrary to the interest of the students, the parents and teachers themselves and nation as a whole,” said Gonsalves.

He said that the Government has been in conversation with the leadership of the unions as late as July and he outlined that the demand they were making was not possible given “the stagnant and slow growth in revenue since the global crisis” and natural disasters that affected this country.

“It would be problematic whatever the case they have,” said Gonsalves, who noted that the unions, before taking the decision to strike next Tuesday could have called him back, “and say can’t we talk more and see what is possible now and in the next year?”

He said that while he acknowledges that they have shown forbearance over four years, they have also done comparatively well since 2001 in respect of salaries and benefits.

“I’m asking them to reconsider this decision. I’m not being hostile to them. I’m just being straightforward and rational and reasonable and encouraging parents and teachers to send their children to school.

“The dialogue should not be broken in this kind of manner,” stressed Gonsalves.

“This is an election season, the impression is unmistakable that there are one or two persons politically inside the union that want to manipulate the grievance for political purposes which would not happen and that compounds the ill-advised nature of this action,” he said.

On Monday, during a press conference, Gonsalves said that persons must never expect him to play electoral politics with salary enhancement, “because that is not my style,” while revealing that he is committed to giving an increase in 2016, “because the signs are there for a modest three per cent growth,” according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

He noted, however, that since 2001, teachers and members of the public service have seen an increase of over 40 per cent, while there are teachers that the reclassification process gave an increase of 60 per cent, and persons working at the hospital in certain jobs who were affected by reclassification have seen between 50 per cent and 106 per cent increases.

Gonsalves noted that while there has been no increase over the past few years, SVG is not alone in this regard, as countries, like the United Kingdom, have had wage freezes.

“I’m not saying they don’t deserve one,” said the PM, who stressed that a number of things must be taken into consideration when discussing these matters.

He also noted that persons in this country have kept their jobs unlike workers in Barbados and other countries that downsized their public service.

The PM stressed that public servants and teachers are vital to the country and he wants no quarrel with them, but it is impossible to come up with the money at this point.

He said to pay that money, he would have to slash or eliminate programmes like YES, SETT, Home Help for the Elderly and the Public Assistance Benefits programmes, while he would also have to stop providing subsidy for transportation and cut down on scholarships and student loans.

“I can do it, but none of us would like what it would look like. The country would be worse off,” stressed the PM during Monday’s press conference.

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