SEARCHLIGHT welcomes the agreement reached between the Government and public sector unions for wage and salary increases for public servants over the three-year period 2023-2025. It has saved the country industrial disputes and confrontations which we can ill afford at this time.
The increases, 2.5 per cent for 2023, 2 per cent for 2024 and 2.5 per cent in 2025 will mean an increased financial burden on the government.
In addition to the public sector salary increases, additional benefits in the form of tax breaks were announced. These revolve around a lowering of the top tax rate from 30 per cent to 28 per cent and an increase in the personal income tax standard deduction from $20,000 to $22,000 per annum.
Overall the Treasury will be hit by an estimated $60 million, meaning that Government will not only have to find this sum but that $60 million less is available for other services and programmes.
Now, having satisfied the demands of public servants and government employees; having refrained from stringent price control regulations to try and keep price increases from getting further out of hand; and having given in to the demands of those who operate public transport; are we, the rest of the population not covered by these measures, not entitled to ask, “What about us”?
First, those unions which represent non-public sector unions, the National Workers Movement (NWM) and the Commercial Technical and Allied Workers Union(CTAWU) must be justified in knocking on the doors of the employers of their members, seeking increases, even if just to cover what has been lost through price increases and inflation. These do not necessarily have to come in direct salary and wage increases for unions worth their salt will know that benefits can come in many different forms.
Then, for non-unionised workers, we still have the outmoded Wages Council. Unfortunately, outmoded it may be, but it is still the only existing tool to address wage increases for non-unionised workers. It must be convened without delay to address the needs of the lowest-paid workers.
We have often wondered what the organized trade union movement plans to do about the army of non-unionised workers. Surely, they cannot take the narrow approach of “seeking the interest of our members”. They have a moral duty to the rest of the working class to help in addressing their needs and concerns. What about a joint campaign of education about the benefits of unionisation, leading to unionisation of as many workers as possible.
Then there are the pensioners and the poorest among us. They too have to cope with price increases, to pay higher bus fares etc. How are the Government and the NIS planning to address their plight?
Yes, there must be balance in our approaches to national issues. Even as we applaud Government and the Public Sector unions for their display of responsibility and shared sacrifice, on behalf of the rest of the population, we raise the cry, “What about us?”