Workers to remain off jobs after negotiations fail

PORT-OF-SPAIN, Trinidad & Tobago: Public workers will remain off their jobs until next week after the latest round of negotiations on Tuesday with the administration of Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar failed to resolve a dispute over salary increases.

The government is sticking to its original offer of zero, zero and one per cent over the period 2008 to 2010. The Public Service Association (PSA), the workers’ bargaining agent, says it will not accept any single digit offer.

PSA president Watson Duke, emerging from the latest rounds of talks with Chief Personnel Officer (CPO) Stephanie Lewis, said the government did not make a new offer. The PSA insists that the lowest category of public workers must receive a salary of no less than TT$6,000 (US$1,000).

“We are saying that the PSA will be officially closing its office from this evening to re-open on Monday. All offices of the PSA are closed. We are saying the next working day for workers in this country is Monday,” said Duke.

Duke said the CPO “has been her usual disrespectful self, saying one per cent for public officers plus they are going to split TT$66 million (US$11 million) among 3,300 public workers”.

Duke said he had no interest in contacting Finance Minister Winston Dookeran “unless he calls me”.

In a statement issued ahead of the talks, the government said public officers, particularly those in the lower salary scales, stand to benefit from an increase of four per cent, even before the increase of one per cent which the CPO has proposed to the Association”.

“This is a result of the consolidation of the Cost of Living Allowance which existed at the end of December 2007 with salary at that date,” the statement said.

In addition, the statement said the government has indicated to the PSA its commitment to exploring mechanisms for expanded coverage of the group health plan, now in force for members of the PSA and the Trinidad and Tobago Unified Teachers Association to include family members.

“The government is also currently taking steps to honour its commitment made in the 2011 Budget Statement, that retired public officers will receive a pension of TT$3,000 (US$500) per month. Legislation is now being finalized to be brought to Parliament,” the statement said.

The statement added that Dookeran expressed hope the negotiations “would proceed to an amicable solution for all concerned”.

Dookeran said that given the current state of the country’s finances, he sincerely wishes that the negotiations take place and be settled “around the table since they would not be settled on the streets”.

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