Members of the Public Service Association (PSA), National Trade Union Centre (NATUC) and the Members Club and Lottery Workers Union (MCLWU) gathered outside the Parliament Tower at the International Waterfront Centre in Port of Spain yesterday to protest tax hikes announced in the 2018 budget.
PSA president and Tobago House of Assembly (THA) Minority Leader Watson Duke was present to show solidarity with the protesters who marched, chanted and shouted.
The protest took place a day after fishermen staged a similar protest outside the Parliament Tower over the increase in the price of fuel especially diesel, which is used to power boats.
Duke said he was concerned about the tax measures introduced in the budget and begged the Government and Finance Minister Colm Imbert to hear and heed the cries of the working class facing immense pressure by the rise in fuel and increase in taxes.
“These workers are not asking for much,” Duke said. “All they are asking for is the opportunity to keep their jobs. As you can tell by the outcry, most of the persons here are female. We are concerned and we are asking the Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, while the ink on the budget is still wet, maybe they can pull aside and have a committee to review draconian measures announced in the budget.”
Duke said he shares Government’s concern on collecting revenue and stabilising the economy but added that recent measures imposed on casinos and the gaming industry should be reviewed since while seeking to get more taxes, this could have a deleterious effect on jobs.
Citing high levels of unemployment and possible socio-economic implications, Duke said further discussion is needed with stakeholders in the gaming industry. He urged Government to engage in more consultations. Duke pointed to an unofficial devaluing of the dollar with an increasing cost of goods as he implored Government to adjust the salaries of public sector workers to restore equity.
Sean Clarke, president of the MCLWU later made an impassioned plea for Government to adjust the tax hikes and restrictions, saying while he was not opposed to paying taxes, the increase is too much and too soon.
“The (tax) increases were totally unjustifiable and while we are aware of the uncertain economic times and the need for Government to take measures to reduce wastage. But we pay our taxes, we are simply asking Government to show some leniency and do what is right.”
President of activist group Ummah TT, Imam Rasheed Karim told Newsday the increase in taxation coupled with a removal of the fuel subsidy is harmful to the economy and society.