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January 11, 2008
Union Head: Shirla Francis may have been right


The head of the Public Service Union says more time was needed for the reclassification exercise, and former Permanent Secretary Shirla Francis may have been right for taking what some considered to be “too much time’ to get the process done.{{more}}

Aubrey Burgin made this declaration when he spoke to SEARCHLIGHT on Wednesday evening.

“We should not have rushed to get this thing done by December last year,” Burgin said in retrospect.

Burgin told SEARCHLIGHT that he believes to some extent Permanent Secretary Francis has been vindicated.

She was removed from her post in the Ministry responsible for the reclassification amidst scathing criticism by then teachers’ union president, Otto Sam.

Sam publicly accused Francis of not doing enough to advance the reclassification process, and charged that she was “stubborn”, “foolhardy”, “indifferent”, and “contemptuous” in her dealing of the issue of reclassification.

For her part, Francis maintained that she did all that was possible in the time she had the process under her care, and stressed that a lot of work still needed to be done.

Prime Minister Dr Gonsalves for his matter sought to explain Francis’ transfer.

“The Government analyzed, and I personally analyzed that what the unions were saying, that the process was too slow, that the unions had a point of merit,” Dr Gonsalves said.

She was replaced by Nathaniel Williams in June, and the process was completed before year end 2007.

Francis is now Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Telecommunications.

In an interview last year, following her transfer, Francis contended that she was being made a scapegoat in the reclassification process.

But now, in addition to this week’s withdrawal of service by teachers, the Public Service Union (PSU) is also raising red flags about issues facing its members.

A press release dated January 08, 2008 states: “The PSU is concerned about these substantive cuts in both the minimum and maximum salary scales for the majority of public servants, particularly in grades 1 through 8. The PSU is concerned that given the high and steadily rising cost of living; many public servants currently employed will not only live but retire into abject poverty.”

Indications are that while an appellate body has been set up to deal with anomalies in the process, the unions feel that the situations that they are addressing are critical, not simply anomalies.

Burgin told SEARCHLIGHT that a steering committee of the PSU will be putting together a document by next Monday, which will be discussed with its members at a general meeting next Wednesday.

He said that when he was quoted as saying that he was satisfied, following the Prime Minister’s Independence Day address, he was speaking about the 10 percent salary increase, and not the reclassification exercise.

“I knew that when people got their December salaries then we would see the problems with the reclassification,” Burgin said.