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Government’s lack of communication with SVGTU is unprofessional – union president

Government’s lack of communication with SVGTU is unprofessional – union president
(Left) Wendy Bynoe, president of the SVGTU , (Right)Minister of Finance Camillo Gonsalves

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The non-acknowledgement by the Government of correspondence from the St Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers Union (SVGTU) is viewed by the Union as unprofessional at best, and not in keeping with expected good labour relations’ protocol.

Wendy Bynoe, president of the SVGTU, in an address earlier this week to mark the 43rd Anniversary of the commemoration of the 1975 historic Teachers’ strike said the Union is “alarmed” with the way in which their communication to the government is met with silence.

“On January 24, 2017, a joint proposal for salary increase was submitted to the Minister of Finance by the Public Service Union and the St Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers’ Union. Another letter was sent on September 5th 2018. To date, we have not received any responses from government,” Bynoe said.

But Minister of Finance Camillo Gonsalves, while confirming receipt of the September 2018 letter, told SEARCHLIGHT on Thursday, that far from ignoring it, he is taking it “very seriously.”

“The letter was the catalyst for me to reach out to the Ministry of Labour, Education, and relevant staff in the ministry of Finance to compile data on student-teacher ratios, the number of teachers on our payroll, incremental raises, absenteeism, study leave opportunities and productivity.”

He said he intends to have a discussion with the union about performance-based compensation, and rewarding the best-performing and hardest-working teachers.

Gonsalves also expressed regret at not having issued a formal response.

“I regret that I have not issued a formal response to the Teachers’ Union, and I regret that the Union considers this a slight. Far from it. It was precisely because I did not want to treat the request in bureaucratic ‘request received’ manner that they have not heard from me yet. I will admit that the data gathering process has taken longer that I expected. However, I intend to have a substantive discussion aimed at changing the paradigm of these encounters,” the minister said.

In her address, Bynoe also described as “unacceptable”, what she called the “longstanding government practice of avoiding genuine negotiation,” and expressed hope that “genuine negotiations” can be restarted in relation to “salary increases, pension reform and other pertinent issues affecting government employees.”

“The last time any real negotiations took place was in 1999 when the trade union leaders engaged in salary negotiations. Since then, whenever the government increased the salaries of its workers, by a shockingly paltry amount, it has done so unilaterally thus defeating the whole purpose of social dialogue. For over 13 years, the SVGTU has had no new collective bargaining agreement. All of our requests for a new collective bargaining agreement have gone unheeded,” the Union president said.

Gonsalves however rejected the Union’s claim about government avoiding genuine negotiation and said he is seeking productive communication with the unions.

“I told the Unions on the margins of my budget consultations a year ago that my door is open and that I am seeking continuous productive communication with them. I do not believe that it is useful or productive to engage in name-calling in the media as a modern negotiating strategy. The unions and the nation will recall that I made Pension reform an issue in my 2018 budget speech. There are various options currently being vetted by the Attorney General for their legality. I intend to fully and comprehensively discuss these matters with the workers that they will affect.

“However, I do not accept the union’s claims about ‘longstanding government practice’ about ignoring unions. This is a Labour government, and the record of improved conditions, salaries and opportunities for workers is there for all to see. We will proudly defend that record. The Unions will decide whether they want to resort to mass media name calling and old-school adversarial negotiating tactics or whether they want to work collaboratively to achieve pragmatic gains that are realistic, feasible and responsive to modern conditions.

“I encourage them to call, email or knock on my door if they ever need an informal update on where we are. But I will also be more than happy to formally acknowledge receipt of their correspondence,” the Minister said.

Teachers’ Solidarity Week 2018, which ends today, is being celebrated under the theme “The Right to an Education means the Right to a Qualified Teacher.”

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