January 11, 2008
Back to the drawing board


This week’s two-day strike action by the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers’ Union (SVGTU) has found the government not only taken aback but moreso embarrassed. For this is not just an industrial action by any trade union, it is action by a sector long considered as being sympathetic to, if not supportive of, the programmes and policies of the governing Unity Labour Party (ULP).{{more}} The dispute is rooted in the dissatisfaction of the SVGTU in the implementation of the reclassification exercise by the government of its employees. The Union contends that this has left a significant section of its membership at a disadvantage and that it has, therefore, been forced to take action in support of their claims. Worrying for those in authority, the Public Service Union (PSU), too, has been rumbling its discontent with some aspects of the reclassification.

All this is in stark contrast to the upbeat picture painted by the Government since October. At the official Independence Day celebrations, Prime Minister Gonsalves pointed to the reclassification exercise as one of the achievements of his government, which, along with salary increases, would bring great benefits to public employees. This was reiterated with even more gusto at last month’s Budget Debate. One was left to conclude, therefore, that, bar the usual anomalies, government employees and their unions were, by and large, satisfied with the reclassification exercise.

This appears to have been a gross misconception, for by year end, there began to be heard noises of a different sort. The reclassification exercise is one not easily understood by those of us not intimately familiar with it, but it appears that all is not well with it. Whatever the merits or demerits, whether as the Prime Minister has said, the reclassification is not a salary negotiation; it must be clear that it is in the interest of all that some frank face-to-face discussions must ensue to resolve outstanding differences.

The year 2008 poses formidable challenges for us as a people. There are many issues which are going to test our national resolve and which will demand collective action. We simply cannot afford to have our teachers and our public servants at odds with our government over issues such as the reclassification exercise. Please sit down, talk and find amicable solutions.