Trade union leaders are not too keen on the recent announcement by Finance Minister Colm Imbert on Monday on government's decision to use some of its $1.98 billion revenue surplus to pay public-sector wage increases. Speaking to Newsday, they said while they are optimistic, they do not have high expectations, since promises of wage increases are over a decade old.
However, they are eager to see what percentage of the windfall government will bring in its proposal through Chief Personnel Officer (CPO) Dr Daryl Dindial to settle wage increase.
Public Services Association (PSA) president Leroy Baptiste said the association has hopes the cries of workers for a wage increase will be heard this time."We are optimistic. It's about time public officers benefit from the sacrifices they have made over the years."What they (the Government) budgeted for oil and gas, the price has been far above that, so we expected just that, a windfall, and therefore we know the government now has the capacity.
"Baptiste said the PSA will be paying close attention to the priority areas that the money would be used on."We expect now some sort of relief...Public officers have been living on a deficit budget, where they borrow to make ends meet. Their lives have changed, and they need a break. We recommended government focus money from the windfall to alleviating the plight of public officers by giving them a decent wage."
He said the the unions weren't surprised by this decision.
"The only thing we were surprised about is the government maintaining the affordability narrative. But certainly they have changed their tune which speaks to the affordability to close the gap that the market survey, on salaries for teachers, would have identified."National Trade Union Centre general secretary Michael Annisette said the announcement is nothing to get excited, over as wage increases are long overdue."Still, we look forward to see a reasonable or decent proposal is brought. But we are not counting our chickens before the eggs hatch. We want a decent wage, or else the economy would suffer. Let's change the way we do our economics."
TT Unified Teachers Association vice president Marlon Seales told Newsday, "We are optimistic. We heard the minister said public servants would be the beneficiaries. So with the good news about the economy and the windfall, we are eager for our next rounds of communications with the CPO later this week. That gives us hope this time with our ongoing negotiations."Prison Officers Association president Ceron Richards hopes the wage proposal would be encouraging, fair and sustainable to prison officers."We hope when we get our counterproposal that promise would be reflected in it."
The association is expected to meet with the CPO for another round of negotiations on Thursday."Our proposal has always been fair, considering the risk of the job and the needs of officers...We hope the government do good with its proposal. We hope justice is done, because we believe the government has the ability to pay."The association will say more on the matter after its meeting on Thursday.
But as the unions remain hopeful that wage increase becomes a reality, Idi Stuart, president of the Trinidad and Tobago Registered Nurses Association, said its members have nothing to be happy about. Stuart said nurses and midwives know this move will not benefit them because its members are under the regional health authorities, which operate outside the public service. The union is still waiting for recognised majority union (RMU) status before it can be recognised by the CPO. "We want clarification from the minister on if this would reach to RHA workers, which the CPO does not cover. We don't want a situation where public servants get an increase and nurses and midwives are left in the wilderness. That will not go down well."Stuart is hoping to meet with the minister soon to discuss this.
The police Social and Welfare Association is expected to comment before the end of the week.