An estimated 4,000 public servants employed in the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) have categorically rejected the government’s offer of a two per cent salary increase over eight years.
Public Services Association (PSA) president Leroy Baptiste said so on Saturday, a day after trade union leaders, at a news conference, vociferously objected to the latest offer for the period 2014-2021.
The union leaders have also threatened to shut down the public sector, within the next few days, in a show of protest.
In his counter-proposal to trade unions, Chief Personnel Officer (CPO) Dr Daryl Dindial offered no increase for the period 2014-2017, one per cent for 2018, no further increase for 2019-2020 and one per cent for 2021.
A visibly incensed National Union of Government and Federated Workers president general James Lambert, one of five trade union representatives who attended the news conference, noted it was the first time in history that “such a disrespectful, shameful and hogwash proposal has ever been made” to public sector workers.
Baptiste, in a Sunday Newsday interview, said workers in Tobago have joined their colleagues in Trinidad in “rejecting outright” the two per cent offer.
He said members of the PSA’s general council and conference of delegates, which includes Tobago representatives, met virtually on Friday to discuss the development.
“It was conveyed to us beyond the shadow of a doubt that people are feeling insulted, disrespected. And the position in Tobago, as it was unanimous in Trinidad, is that it is to be outrightly rejected.”
Baptiste said members are interpreting the offer as a “declaration of war on public officers.”
He added the position of Tobago workers will be conveyed in a letter to the CPO on Monday.
Asked how he felt about the offer, Baptiste said, “I echo the sentiments of the members. I think it is absolutely a disrespect.”
He said while some employees might have their misgivings about trade unions, the work of union leaders is simple.
Trade unions, Baptiste said, were established to help people maintain their standard of living.
“When you accept a job, you work for a salary with that there is a certain purchasing power. You go to the grocery and there is a certain amount of goods you can purchase. There is a certain amount of fuel you can put in your car.
“You can pay for something, take a loan. It is about purchasing power. That is what you have agreed to work for.”
Baptiste said over time, one’s purchasing power is impacted by the cost of living.
“Our job as the union is to try to negate the impact of the cost of living on your salary because you have to be able to put back something.”
He said according to statistics from the Central Statistical Office (CSO) for the period 2014-2021, food prices have gone up by 44 per cent.
“Understand what that means. If you are buying a quantity of goods for $100, that same amount of goods, you now I have to find $144 more for it.”
The price of super gasoline has also gone up by 121 per cent over the same period, he noted.
“If it has cost you, when you are taking a trip to Charlotteville $100 in gas, that same trip for the same quantity of gas you now have to pay $221. That is what has happened between 2014 and 2021.”
Baptiste said headline inflation, outside of food and energy, rose by 22 per cent, according to the CSO’s statistics.
“So my job is a simple one. I have to go on that table and come with an increase that persons could maintain their standard of living because if I don’t succeed in that, it means, suddenly you don’t have enough money to live in the way you were living in 2014. You have to find that money somewhere.”
Baptiste believes Tobago’s public servants are in an advantageous position when compared to their Trinidad counterparts.
“Tobago is a slightly different economy. Because of the heavy reliance on the tourism market people could have a side hustle. That is my experience from a lot of my friends from Tobago.
“But outside of a side hustle what happens? People living pay cheque to pay cheque, borrowing from somebody to pay back somebody. That is what people have been doing here (Trinidad).”
He continued, “So when you see a union ask for a percentage increase, we did not pluck it from the sky. It is based on those realities.”
Baptiste said workers cannot “go and thief” to get extra money to live.
“So as a union, our job is to tell the employer that you who is responsible for managing the economy, the job is to put back that power in the hands of the worker so that he could get at least the same levels of goods without having to thief or try to get a side hustle for it.”
He said the unions have rejected the CPO’s officer because “it makes no sense.”
Claiming the government spends over $50 billion a year, Baptiste said, “Our job is to ensure that the economic pie is shared for workers.
“We have to force the reprioritising of expenditure on workers in this country.”
Baptiste said the PSA plans to further thrash out the issue at a news conference early this week.