August 7, 2015
Unions’ proposal for tax-free salary for public servants shelved by Government

Despite expectations by public sector unions of a “favourable” response to their proposal of a one-off compensatory payment of one month’s tax-free salary for all public servants, the proposal has again been shelved by government.

Last Friday, prime minister Dr Ralph {{more}}Gonsalves met with representatives from the various public sector unions to inform them of his administration’s decision to veto the proposal – which would have cost the Government an estimated EC$25 million.

A post dated August 1 on the Facebook page of the St Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers’ Union (SVGTU) stated: “The Government of SVG has rejected the proposal by the trade unions for a one month salary payment in lieu of a salary increase for 2012 – 2014. The national Executive of the SVGTU will meet with its membership for guidance on the way forward.”

During an address to Parliament last Tuesday, the Prime Minister addressed the issue, stating that at present, Government is “not in a position to pay the one month salary which they ask – which would amount to $25 million.”

He also noted that contrary to what he has read in some reports, discussions on the matter have not been “suspended.”

“There was no question of a suspended discussion. We just agreed that we wouldn’t meet again, unless there was some change in circumstances,” insisted PM Gonsalves. “The matter continues to be under review.”

In February 2015, Oswald Robinson, president of the SVGTU formally submitted the proposal following talks held between the Prime Minister, the SVGTU and the Public Service Union (PSU) in December 2014.

In a SEARCHLIGHT article dated February 13, 2015, Robinson – who has been at the forefront of this issue – said that the proposal was made because teachers (and other public servants) had not received any salary increase from 2011 to 2014 as they did not have the opportunity to negotiate.

In the same article, Gonsalves said that Cabinet was informed of the proposal but also pointed out that despite the economic challenges the Government has faced, since 2001 public servants have “had enhancements in salaries ranging between 55 per cent and over 100 per cent.”

At the time, he also explained that as much as he would like to pay public servants more, the Government has to do what is “reasonable, affordable and fair.”

In April 2015, Government issued a communiqué jointly with the SVGTU, the PSU, the Police Welfare Association and the Commercial Technical and Allied Workers’ Union which stated that the compensatory proposal had been discussed at Cabinet Room and that the Government had decided that it was unable to commit to the proposal at that time but would review it at the end of June to “determine the feasibility of honouring the proposal in part or in whole.”

SVGTU president Oswald Robinson was unavailable to comment on last week’s decision, as he is currently out of the country. When SEARCHLIGHT contacted SVGTU first vice president Sheldon Govia, he declined to comment – explaining that the SVGTU will be releasing a statement on the matter soon. (JSV)