T&T Labour Minister to unions: Go back to the negotiating table

Labour Minister Stephen McClashie has urged unions to stay around the bargaining table and not negotiate workers’ salaries in the public domain.

“The union has to go back to the table with the CPO (Chief Personnel Officer) and have discussions and put forward their point of view to look at everything and balance and find an appropriate response, but running off at this point in time really serves no purpose to do the negotiation in the public space.”

An offer of two per cent for the period 2014 to 2021 was made to all public sector workers by the CPO Dr Darryl Dindial on Friday.

However, unions unanimously rejected the offer, calling it “disrespectful” and a “provocation.”

But Minister McClashie told Guardian Media yesterday that while his ministry is not yet involved, he wished to advise the unions to “do their jobs” on behalf of the workers.

“With a negotiation, people start at different spectrums and they meet somewhere in the middle and just looking at the comments and so on, I think it is still early times in the negotiation process and people should let the process work.”

The Ministry of Labour only gets involved if negotiations break down. From there, when called upon, it will facilitate conciliation talks with both parties and if that fails, the matter is referred to the Industrial Court.

While it has not reached that point, unions under the banner of the National Trade Union Centre (NATUC) are already gearing up for a march on Friday.

NATUC general secretary Michael Annisette told CNC3’s The Morning Brew programme yesterday that the protest is one of several “sustainable” plans they plan to put in place going forward.

“You see the two per cent has raised the sleeping giant in workers, workers are upset,” he said.

A majority of those workers are represented by the Public Services Association (PSA), which wants a 25 per cent increase in members’ salaries.

PSA president Leroy Baptiste yesterday told Guardian Media the request is simply for his members to maintain their standard of living.

“It is not an increase as the Prime Minister is purporting, we want the person just to be able to get the same basket of goods,” he said, adding his membership has been impacted by inflation.

He said food inflation, for example, had increasing by 44 per cent since 2014.

“So our member, if he has spent $100 to buy a certain item or items of goods in the grocery, he now needs $144 to get the same items.”

He said other things like fuel also increased significantly.

“Public officers are among the working poor in this country,” Baptiste said, adding the average public officer’s pay is $5,000 to $7,000 a month.

“That pay cannot meet the basic needs of life — food, shelter and clothing.”

Baptiste said the PSA has put forward other items on the table for consideration of the Government, tax exemptions on motor vehicle purchases for public officers and preferential access to homes and/or land.

In response to the Prime Minister and others who may say that the country cannot afford the 25 per cent being asked for, Baptiste disagreed.

He said this country spends over $50 billion a year and only a few are benefitting from this expenditure.

“So all we are saying is the time has come to reprioritise expenditure and have some of that money pass the way of workers.”

He also chastised what he called the “hypocrisy” on the part of the Government.

“They want to put a burden on the backs of workers that they are unwilling to carry themselves. If the country is so badly off, why don’t you give up all those perks of your office and lead by example?”

He said the union’s next meeting with the CPO is on June 21 but before then, the union is planning to do a sensitisation exercise for members. “Then we will take the requisite action to show the support for the (PSA) proposal that is on the table, we will do something.”

In a post to his Twitter page on Sunday, Finance Minister Colm Imbert said the current offer on the table for public sector workers will cost the state over half a billion dollars a year.

“The current offer of a wage increase to public servants will cost the Government and taxpayers $350M in back pay and an additional recurring annual cost of $300M. When extended to the entire state sector, it will cost $700M in back pay and $600M additional recurring annual cost,” he tweeted.

This was followed by another tweet yesterday which spoke to a five per cent increase.

“A 5% wage increase for each 3-year period, from 2015 to 2020, brought up to date to June 2022, across the entire state sector (public service plus statutory authorities and state enterprises) would result in back pay of $9.15B and an additional annual recurrent cost of $2.25B,” Imbert explained.

But while he presented those figures, the minister and the CPO were being accused of changing the terms of the negotiations without consultation.

National Union of Government and Federated Workers president-general James Lambert said his union made a proposal of 15 per cent for two bargaining periods from 2014 to 2019, but was surprised when the CPO countered with an offer for an eight-year period.

“We were really shocked that when we got the proposal from him, he gave us this eight-year thing,” Lambert said.

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