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(CMC) – The St. Vincent and the Grenadines government has reached an agreement with two trade unions for salary increases for non-pensionable government workers, even as three other trade unions claimed they were prevented from meeting with Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves on Friday.
Members of the National Workers Movement (NWM) and the Commercial Technical and Allied Workers Union (CTAWU) will receive salary increases of one per cent retroactive to July 2018, 1.5 per cent from January 2019, and two per cent for 2020.
The agreement came in the absence of the three unions representing public sector workers, who stayed away from the talks after the security at the Office of the Prime Minister told them they had to surrender their cell phones before going into the negotiations.
The representatives of the Public Service Union (PSU), the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers Union (SVGTU), and the Police Welfare Association (PSU) later said that they had never been asked to surrender their mobile devices before the closed-door talks with Prime Minister Gonsalves.
They further said there was no indication of this requirement in the letter sent by Prime Minister Gonsalves, inviting them to the talks.
But, speaking on a local radio station here Friday, Gonsalves said that the notice had been in place when a similar meeting took place last year.
He said that shortly before the talks were due to start on Friday, he was advised by his staff that the representatives from the three unions did not want to “comply with the rules at the office when you come to see the prime minister or any meetings there that you leave your cell phones at the security”.
The unions said that there is a notice in the waiting area of the Office of the Prime Minister saying that phones must be placed on silent before entering the office.
Gonsalves, however, said there are three notices, one in the waiting area with general information and a specific one on a door before the security screening that visitors have to leave cell phones.
The prime minister, who is also minister of national security, said that is standard practice for years now.
Gonsalves said a similar rule is in force at the United States embassy, adding that even if he visits, he has to hand over his cell phone to security personnel there.
“So three of the representatives from unions refused to comply with the requirements of the security. I didn’t see them. They didn’t talk to me; I didn’t talk to them but the staff was enforcing the security arrangements and they decided that they were not going to comply.”
He said the representatives from CTAWU and NWM complied with the rule, adding “so I had a meeting with the two unions which turned up”.
Gonsalves said that meeting was also attended by several government ministers including Finance Minister Camillo Gonsalves and Labour Minister Saboto Caesar.
The prime minister said that, at the meeting, he gave an outline as to where the government is, including a historical overview from 2008 to 2013 of the economic situation, the fiscal condition of the government, broad projects and their stages of preparation and what the government intends to do this year.
“And we told them we were fairly upbeat about 2019 and 2020 on the bases of what happened in 2019.”
He said that the NWM and the CTAWU felt that the government’s offer was “reasonable in all the circumstances”.
He said workers, including teachers, police, nurses, and civil servants who are pensionable, 60 per cent of them, on average, get two per cent increase as a normal incremental increase.
“So if you get no increase in a year, your increment is still there,” he added.
Gonsalves said the salary increases agreed at the meeting are the numbers that will be included in the budget – which the finance minister will present on Jan. 29, a day for which the PSU and teachers’ union had announced a picket outside Parliament.
“Those who behave as children, like infants, those who behave with such unmitigated vanity, even arrogance, they have to explain those things to their members. I have to explain mine to the country and I have acted reasonably,” Gonsalves said.