The lone protester in a yellow jersey who’d stood outside the Twin Tower’s Finance Building on Wednesday hoisting an “Axe the Tax” placard wasn’t seen outside the Parliament for long yesterday.
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Public servants unhappy with PSA’s Watson Duke
Sunil Sookdeo, who has worked for 27 years in the Forestry Division, is questioning the difference between what public servants earned before Watson Duke, president of the Public Services Association, signed the five per cent agreement with the Government. Sookdeo, who accused the PSA executive of “selling out,” said, “I used to earn $5,200 and now is a few hundred extra a month I’ll be earning. But I feel that the whole thing was a sellout. What’s the difference between what the final agreement was and what president Duke was negotiating for before?” Sookdeo is a bit more optimistic about the insurance coverage plan. “ I like the idea of the insurance coverage for the entire family. I think it’s up to $1 million. The housing allocation, in a sense, was already there because there was always a special allowance for people like police and soldiers and those types of people,” he said.
He also raised concerns about the job evaluations that will be done for everyone in the Public Service. Public servants have been clamouring for this for decades. “Duke didn’t do a good job negotiating this settlement. I don’t know what he’ll do when it’s time to do the job evaluations. Some people might get demoted; others might even lose their job. It takes a skilled person with experience to do negotiations.”
All public servants’ names have been changed for this article to protect their personal information.
Other public servants the Business Guardian spoke to feel that the five per cent wage offer, the PSA eventually settled at, just doesn’t cut it. They are also not impressed with the non-financial benefits, like the offer of housing, and are worried about what will happen during the job evaluation exercises, which will begin in July, something the PSA had been fighting for years.
Debrah James, a clerk I in the Ministry of Works and Transport, has been in the public service for 15 years. She complained that a few extra hundred dollars at the end of the month will not improve her living standards. “Before I was earning under $5,000, now with the increase, I earning $300 extra a month, which puts me over $5,000 and this is now taxable. That really won’t raise my standard of living. That could only help me with one extra bill.” James said the non-financial benefits are not much of an improvement either. “Some public servants already have a house. There are also some people who will be retiring soon who will not be able to benefit. Also, we still don’t have details on this will worked out and how houses will be allotted. There are many public servants who are already on a waiting list for HDC houses.”
She said the health coverage will only benefit some. “The same thing exists with the health insurance. Before, it only covered you the employee, now it’ll cover your entire family, but if you’re single, you’ll be paying more for something that won’t necessarily benefit you.” Alicia Phillips, a lab assistant in the Ministry of Education, who has worked for ten years in the Public Service, believes the entire settlement was a failure which does not address the needs of public servants. “Before, I was earning $4,200 now I have a $363 increase that really won’t do anything for me. Most public servants fall in the 14 to 17 ranges. Most public servants don’t get allowances; it’s the professionals and nurses who get this and most nurses now fall under the regional health authorities.”
The non-financial benefits will benefit no one, Phillips said. “How will I be able to pay a mortgage of $1,500 a month on my salary, which is now $4,500. Plus, I now have to pay for the increased health plan and union dues. The next problem is the job evaluation, which we have been asking for for 20 years, and it has now been agreed to. This is like a next mini negotiation and, if Duke couldn’t handle the wage negotiation properly, how will he handle this?” Lisa George, a clerk/typist, who has worked for four years in Parliament earned $3,800 before the settlement, now earns a few dollars more. “That increase is really nothing. I can’t live on that. I have two children and bills and rent to pay. The health plan looks good, though. As for the housing, I don’t think that’s realistic. Where will they be getting houses for all the public servants?”
Anthony Paul—who has worked there for 20 years—clerk III in the Ministry of Community Development, Culture and Gender Affairs, is unhappy that public servants were “betrayed.” “That five per cent is not a big increase. It was badly negotiated by the union. On the surface, the public servants getting houses sounds good, but I wonder if the Government could really meet that. The next problem is the performance evaluation. We have to await more details on that. Some people might get promoted; others might lose their jobs,” Paul said. Mark Periera, who has been working for 14 years with the Ministry of Health, earned $4,500 prior to the settlement. He’ll now be making $300 extra a month.
“This settlement was a sad day for the PSA. Duke needed to have better people to negotiate. This settlement will not do much for us. For the health insurance, we will have to pay more money. Most public servants had already applied for government housing. As for the job evaluation, I don’t know how Duke will handle that. Every single position will be evaluated in the Public Service. If this isn’t done properly by the union, we could see some people losing their jobs, like the cleaners and they bringing in contract labour.”
PSA agreement 2008-2010
1. Consolidation of COLA of $125 to salary as at December 31, 2007
2. A new COLA of $125 for years 2008 and 2009 with a COLA of $145 for 2010
3. Salary increases of 2.0 per cent, 1.0 per cent for 2008, 2009 and 2010, with attendant backpay
4. A lumpsum payment of $3,000
5. An increase of allowances to the tune of approximately 8.0 per cent on travelling, meals and other allowances
6. Job evaluation
7. Provision of housing and consideration is being given to the provision of housing repair and renovation loans.
8. Improved medical plan (including family benefits).
9. Improved death benefits.