T&T's PM urges restraint as labour leaders threaten to shut down country over salary increases

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad (CMC) – Trinidad’s Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley has urged labour leaders not to “over react” after they threatened to shut down the country over the government’s latest wage offer to public sector workers.

Public sector trade unions Friday rejected a two per cent wage increase offered by the government for their members, expressing disappointment and “downright disrespect” at the government’s attitude towards workers.

The Chief Personnel Officer (CPO) offered no increase for the period 2014-2017, one per cent for 2018, no further increase for the period 2019-2020, and one per cent for the 2021 negotiating period.

President of the Police Social and Welfare Association, Gideon Dickson, speaking on a television programme, said he was astonished by the government’s recommendation.

“I, personally was shocked …and this is disheartening and as a matter of fact this is disrespectful,” he said, recalling that as of December 1, 2021 at least 36 police officers would have died as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

President of the Prison Officers Association, Ceron Richards, said the authorities should be treating wage negotiations as a serious business.

“We cannot, at this juncture, look at this negotiation as any game being played by any finance minister. If that is a game, he is in a game by himself, he is virtually on his own with that.

President General of the National Union of Government and Federated Workers, James Lambert, said he found the CPO’s offer “very disrespectful”.

“This is the worst offer in the history of this country to trade unions. This Government is showing that they do not care about the working class and we had enough of this nonsense. We are ready to shut down the country and hit the streets in our numbers. They take the workers for granted,” Lambert said.

But Rowley, speaking to reporters on Sunday, said his administration is seeking to strike a balance in what it is capable of offering, along with job sustainability and perseverance.

“What this Government has done since 2015 is to make it quite clear that we are in support of improvement of conditions and of the sustainability of jobs in the public service. Even during our most difficult periods over the last few years, have we tried to solve our difficulties by removing public servants from their jobs, or retrenching them. And this is our seventh year in government. We have never taken that policy once in attempting to balance the budget.

“We said we would preserve the jobs as opposed to giving more to some while others lose their jobs. To that end, we have borrowed money, very early in our existence, and paid about $6 billion in back pay to those public servants. And, of course, that back pay was kicked in at the same time with a slight increase in pay. We’ve had difficult service since then.

“The statement of the Minister of Finance recently was very clear, there is a little breathing space now. And immediately we looked to add something to public servants with the aim of preserving the jobs but to also see what we can add. Clearly what was offered has offended some people, but don’t try to get derailed from wanting more from less,” Rowley said.

Rowley urged the labour leaders and the population to “put that against a recent report of a slight increase in revenue from the Minister of Finance and then the huge debt this country ran up pre-COVID and during COVID and then come to a conclusion if shutting down the country is an appropriate response to these circumstances.

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