Unions’ wage expectations too high

Entornointeligente.com /

Ne­go­ti­at­ing terms and con­di­tions for a bar­gain­ing pe­ri­od that ex­tends retroac­tive­ly to 2014 was al­ways like­ly to be dif­fi­cult and com­pli­cat­ed. There are so many fac­tors to be con­sid­ered as Chief Per­son­nel Of­fi­cer (CPO) Dr Daryl Din­di­al and the 11 unions rep­re­sent­ing the Gov­ern­ment’s 90,000 em­ploy­ees try to ham­mer out new col­lec­tive agree­ments.

Long be­fore the ne­go­ti­a­tions start­ed, Fi­nance Min­is­ter Colm Im­bert had warned that the Gov­ern­ment can­not af­ford to in­crease wages in the pub­lic sec­tor.

In ad­di­tion, in a state­ment in Par­lia­ment some months ago an­nounc­ing the start of the pub­lic sec­tor wage ne­go­ti­a­tion, Prime Min­is­ter Dr Kei­th Row­ley said that the wage in­creas­es had al­ready been cal­cu­lat­ed by the CPO’s Of­fice.

There was no in­di­ca­tion of a change in that po­si­tion when Min­is­ter Im­bert de­liv­ered the Mid-year Bud­get Re­view last Mon­day, al­though he did an­nounce that some of this year’s $1.98 bil­lion rev­enue sur­plus will be used to pay the pub­lic-sec­tor wage in­creas­es.

But the unions still had un­re­al­is­ti­cal­ly lofty ex­pec­ta­tions, judg­ing from their an­gry re­jec­tion of the CPO’s of­fer of no in­crease for 2014-2017, one per cent for 2018, no in­crease for 2019-2020, and one per cent for 2021.

There has al­ready been a threat from the Na­tion­al Union of Gov­ern­ment and Fed­er­at­ed Work­ers (NUGFW), bar­gain­ing agents for dai­ly paid work­ers, to force­ful­ly re­ject that of­fer by shut­ting down the pub­lic sec­tor.

The two per cent of­fer has al­so been re­ject­ed by oth­er unions, in­clud­ing the Pub­lic Ser­vices As­so­ci­a­tion (PSA) and the Prison Of­fi­cers’ As­so­ci­a­tion (POA) and the T&T Uni­fied Teach­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tion (TTUTA) may fol­low suit.

It is like­ly that in the com­ing days, these unions will em­bark on their usu­al protest ac­tions which they de­scribe as pe­ri­ods of «rest and re­flec­tion,» but which are in fact sick-outs in­tend­ed to bring the pub­lic sec­tor to a stand­still.

That is the last thing this coun­try, which is still try­ing to re­cov­er from the loss­es of the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic, can af­ford.

Al­though Min­is­ter Im­bert was able to de­liv­er some un­ex­pect­ed­ly good news about the health of the econ­o­my in his midterm pre­sen­ta­tion, the pri­or­i­ty, for now, is on debt re­duc­tion.

The union’s ex­pec­ta­tions for wage in­creas­es must be con­sid­ered against the back­drop of a pub­lic sec­tor wage bill that is ap­prox­i­mate­ly $20 bil­lion a year, or about $1.5 to $1.7 bil­lion a month. At least half of the Gov­ern­ment ex­pen­di­ture is used to cov­er pub­lic sec­tor salaries.

That is why the cur­rent ne­go­ti­a­tions with the CPO should in­clude an hon­est as­sess­ment of whether the in­creas­es in wages, salaries and ben­e­fits be­ing de­mand­ed by pub­lic sec­tor work­ers will yield any re­turn on in­vest­ment for the State.

T&T needs a pub­lic ser­vice that is struc­tured to meet the de­mands of the 21st cen­tu­ry. The low pro­duc­tiv­i­ty and poor ser­vice that plagued the sec­tor for decades must be erad­i­cat­ed and sys­tems re­fined and re­struc­tured to pro­duce more ef­fi­cient and ef­fec­tive min­istries and state en­ti­ties that can pro­duce im­proved de­liv­ery ef­fi­cien­cies and rev­enues.

The unions can as­sist in the cre­ation of that mod­ern and ef­fi­cient pub­lic sec­tor by par­tic­i­pat­ing in more cre­ative bar­gain­ing that can yield im­proved con­di­tions for work­ers in ex­change for en­hanced ser­vices and pro­duc­tiv­i­ty for the na­tion.

LINK ORIGINAL: The Trinidad Guardian