DOUGLAS MENDES, SC, the attorney representing the Public Services Association (PSA), is questioning the methodology used by the Ministry of Finance to arrive at its four per cent salary increase being offered to public servants.
Mendes raised this during his hour-long cross-examination of the ministry's Permanent Secretary Suzette Taylor-Lee Chee on the second day of the hearing between the Chief Personnel Officer (CPO) and the PSA at the Industrial Court, St Vincent Street, Port of Spain, on Thursday.
The PSA has rejected Government’s offer of a four per cent wage increase for 2014-2019. The proposal represents zero, zero, two, zero, zero, two for each year successively.
The PSA – which represents the largest catchment of public servants in the country – and the Fire Services Association are still resisting this offer. However, the Amalgamated Workers' Union, the TT Regiment, the TTPS, the Prisons Officers Association and the TT Unified Teachers Association (TTUTA) have all capitulated and accepted Government's offer.
Mendes reviewed Taylor-Lee Chee's witness statements and asked her to explain what formula was used to guide CPO Dr Daryl Dindial that a four per cent increase was adequate for public servants.
He argued that proper justification is needed to arrive at such a critical decision, which affects tens of thousands of public servants.
In her response, Taylor-Lee Chee said the optimum percentage of salaries was done on a country-by-country basis and on that country's priorities at the time.
But Mendes continued to press Taylor-Lee Chee, asking for a specific formula which could have been used to arrive at that four per cent figure.
She said while a debt-sustainability index could be used as a measure, it was not included in her witness statements.
"Well then, I can't ask you about it, because you haven't made evidence in here (witness statements)," Mendes pointed out.
"According to your witness statement, you don't employ any of the mechanisms you have just mentioned to stick out the four per cent, as opposed to three per cent, or eight or ten.
"There isn't any magic formula, because, as you say, it depends on priorities."
Mendes also referred to reports that state-owned oil and gas company Heritage Petroleum earned $1 billion in profit, noting this was a good indicator of the state of the local energy sector.
Taylor-Lee Chee contended that Government continued to service about $3 billion in debt for that company. But Mendes maintained the performance of Heritage suggested it could be taxed and was not in a dire state.
Mendes said he was concerned that Taylor-Lee Chee's submissions only included certain facts to help support the case of the ministry.
"I'm just concerned that you are harping on the bad news in your witness statements for the parties who you represent.
"That's why I asked you in the first place if you are an independent witness, because you're not presenting the good news, you're haven't brought the information about the standard of living.
"There is no job-evaluation exercise done for public officers, all of these things were not highlighted and you haven't presented any formula on how you arrived at four per cent as the maximum limit Government can afford. You just say it is four per cent!"
The matter is expected to resume on June 15.
Speaking with Newsday after the hearing, PSA president Leroy Baptiste said, "We press on. We will continue the fight on behalf of public officers. The four per cent is completely inadequate and unacceptable and it diminishes the work of the public officers."