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Public Sector unions to meet with PM today

Public Sector unions to meet with PM today
Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves


LEADERS OF THE local public sector unions believe that the invitation for them to meet with the Prime Minister today was prompted by their decision to host a joint press briefing and stage a protest during the Budget debates later this month.

At a press conference on Monday, Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves said that the government was looking at possibilities for wage and salary enhancements and increases.

But at a joint press conference between the St Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers’ Union (SVGTU) and the Public Service Union (PSU) on Tuesday, the presidents expressed views that the invitation was only extended because of the unions’ future intentions.

“I will point out that after the news went public that we were having a joint press conference, our unions received a telephone call from the Prime Minister’s Office yesterday, January 7, 2019 to invite the unions to a meeting with the prime minister this Friday, January 11,” Wendy Bynoe, president of the Teachers’ union said.

On the agenda for today’s meeting are items on pension reform, salary enhancement and other general Budget issues.

And Bynoe told the media that despite what she considers to be a late invitation, the unions will attend.

“It was also leaked that we were planning protest action on the 29th assuming that is the day for the debates of the Budget. That protest action will be taking place although

the government has sent out the call for discussions on pensions,” Elroy Boucher, the president of the PSU said.

The unions held their press conference to highlight issues being faced by the members of each union. And both presidents highlighted the issues of salaries, pension reform and outdated collective agreements as stumbling blocks for their unions.

In the case of the Teachers’ Union, Bynoe said that multiple letters have been written to the government highlighting the union’s readiness to negotiate salary adjustments.

“The authorities appear unwilling to engage in discussion in this regard. We also sent letters. We sent letters 24 January, 2017. In December 6, 2017, congratulating the new minister of finance and we again wrote about salary increase and we did so as well on September 5 and we are still awaiting an acknowledgement of those letters,” she said.

The president also noted that letters have been written by the union and the Caribbean Union of Teachers to the government with respect to the Collective Agreement, which is almost 14 years old.

She said that talks stalled after trying to arrive at a new agreement in 2008 and the union’s effort to get the government back to the bargaining table have been futile.

“In the case of the Public Service Union, we would have sent a proposal to the government over eight years ago. Keep asking about it, it has never seen the light of day.

This is a labour government that has no regard whatsoever for the collective bargaining process; the process that is key to any union ensuring that their membership rights are looked after and their benefits are secured,” Boucher said.

He said that the government has “literally closed the door on dialogue” and that its lack of response when letters are written to address matters is one of the reasons that the unions will protest on the day of the Budget debate.

“The message has to be sent loud and clear. It is no longer business as usual with the trade unions in St Vincent and the Grenadines; public sector unions. You cannot take the unions for granted as you have been doing for a number of years. Enough is enough. The union ought to be given the respect they deserve as the workers’ representatives,” the PSU president said.