August 16, 2022
Public Sector Industrial Relations Situation Entering a Period of Turbulence

FOLLOWING MONTHS of an uneasy calm there are signs that local industrial relations may be entering a period of turbulence.

The same two public sector unions, the St Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers Union (SVGTU) and the Public Service Union (PSU) are the ones at the forefront and the embattled government the target.

They have been the protagonists in disputes which reached a head last year over vaccine mandates relating to the Covid-19 pandemic and government regulations which stipulated vaccinations for state employees.

The dispute reached the streets with protest demonstrations by the unions, with support from the political opposition, and a number of teachers and public servants either “abandoning their employment”, in the view of the government, or being “unjustly dismissed” from a union’s perspective.

This time the particular “hot spots” are the teaching service and, in the case of the PSU, the Argyle International Airport (AIA) where the government and the union have been at loggerheads for some time now.

In the former case, the dispute has reached the streets once again while at the AIA, there are open threats to close

down the country’s main contact with the international community via air space.

The teaching dispute revolves around the decision of the government to invite those teachers who are not currently in employment as a result of the Covid regulations, to re-apply for their jobs.

The SVGTU objects to the process, insisting that they should be “reinstated” with no loss of benefits but also compensation in the form of salaries for the time lost. The battle has boiled down to one over the “RE-s”, RE-Apply” or “RE-Instate”.

In turn, given the critical importance of teachers to educational development, those divisions have surfaced in the society. Teachers themselves are divided as to how far one should go in the re-hiring process and those divisions are replicated within the society itself.

What is clear is that with the re-opening of school just weeks away, the society can ill-afford disputes in which if we are not careful, we will all be the losers.

It is critical that both sides consider the wider picture and resist the temptation to sacrifice education and jobs on the altar of political expediency.

Teachers and their badly-affected families cannot afford to sacrifice all on the altar of the favourable Court ruling promised by their leaders and lawyers. Nor must the future of our children continue to be jeopardized by personal egos. It is in our common interests to find a solution which places our country, its children and teachers above all else.

Compounding the dispute is the situation at the AIA. There have been open threats of a shut-down on the country’s main air artery. It is indeed reassuring to note that the AIA, in a press statement last weekend, has committed itself to the collective bargaining process. But all those in the know are aware that there are long-simmering unresolved matters there.

Again we urge, let restraint, good sense and the national interest prevail, respect the collective bargaining process and the rights of workers.