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October 16, 2015
‘The contexts in 2000 and in 2015 were different to the core’

A former president of the Public Service Union (PSU) has called on the leadership of both the Teachers Union and the PSU to resign for calling what he says appears to be a ‘Wild Cat Strike’ last Tuesday.

Lanceford Weekes, who headed the PSU between 2000 and 2002 and was the lead negotiator for the union in 1999, during salary negotiations with Government, says the leadership of the St Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers Union (SVGTU) and the PSU called a strike last Tuesday knowing that they did not have the support of their members.{{more}}

“How can they declare a strike knowing that the membership did not support them?” asked Weekes, who is now Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Telecommunications, in a statement sent to SEARCHLIGHT.

The experienced trade unionist explained that ‘Wild Cat Strike’ is a term used in Industrial Relations to describe a situation where sections/bargaining units of a union proceed on a strike without the knowledge and/or the support of the leadership of union.

Weekes said, in his opinion, the president of the PSU did not present any serious analysis to support his call for Union members to strike last Tuesday, failed to mobilize the membership and has weakened the Union.

“He has been accused publicly of seeking to get the Prime Minister to disadvantage a colleague to his personal benefit, … he must go!”

The Permanent Secretary said several aspects of the discourse leading up to Tuesday’s strike may give the impression that there was a general attempt to recreate what transpired in 2000 in 2015.

But according to Weekes, “the contexts were different to the core”, hence, the failure of the 2015 strike.

“In the period 1998 to 2000, public servants existed in terrible working conditions. The Ministerial Building, which housed the General Post Office and the Ministry of Health, was falling apart: electrical cables were hanging all over the place; there were frequent electrical outages, the fear of electrocution and fire was real. The Government Printery was practically inhabitable. The Public Works Building, the Registry, the Treasury and the Library were all below acceptable conditions for people to work. The control tower at the ET Joshua Airport presented clear danger to those who occupied it. The glass panel walls were shaking, emergency exit was a major challenge and the noise that emanated from the apron was unbearable. There were continuous protests against these conditions and agitation to have them remedied,” Weekes recalled.

He said in 1999, negotiations for salary increases for public officers were settled.

“The PSU had presented detailed proposal for a 20 per cent increase in salaries over three years. The Government team, led by the Minister of Finance Mr Eustace, offered zero per cent (0%). The negotiations were bruising, the exchanges were public. Public officers were consulted during lunch meetings. The PSU negotiating team attempted to convince the membership to accept 11 per cent that appeared to be the final offer. The membership was firm in their rejection of that offer.”

Weekes said as lead negotiator, he offered his resignation, but eventually, the president of the Union got the Minister to move to 12 per cent, which was accepted by the PSU, but not by the SVGTU. It was, however, paid to them.

According to Weekes, it was not the salary negotiations that led to what some now refer to as the ‘Road Block Revolution ‘ of 2000, during which the PSU declared that it was leading a process to get the Government to dissolve Parliament and seek a mandate to govern.

He said the protests were a response to the Government taking a Bill to Parliament and passing it into law, despite serious protest by public servants, teachers and nurses.

“The Act was to enhance the pension, gratuity and other benefits of parliamentarians, even though a significant number of the members of the 2000 Cabinet were in the Cabinet that had earlier decided to remove the pension of public servants,” he explained.

Weekes also said the one-off payment being sought by the unions today to compensate for the salary freeze is not new and happened in 2002.

“The PSU and the Government successfully negotiated a 60 per cent of one month’s salary for all categories of public officers in 2002. The Union requested a one-month salary. It was presented as a win-win situation for the parties. They settled at 50 per cent. The Government eventually paid 60 per cent,” Weekes said.