When Minister of Finance, Winston Dookeran, referred the dispute involving public servants' terms and conditions of employment to the Special Tribunal on March 18, all 33,000 of those affected must have despaired.Public servants must have feared a protracted period of negotiation at this specialist arm of the Industrial Court, followed by an outcome that might have been remarkably similar to the final offer made by the Chief Personnel Officer, who represents the Government in negotiations with public officers.As it stands, the offer accepted by Public Services Association (PSA) boss, Watson Duke, yesterday looks quite similar to final offer presented by the CPO on March 1-with some important sweeteners.The final offer was for a five per cent increase for the period January 1, 2008 to December 31, 2010 with two per cent being paid in the first year, one per cent in the second year and two per cent in the third year.
The final offer also included the consolidation of the existing Cost of Living Allowance (COLA) of $125 per month with the public servant's salary as at December 31, 2007. A new monthly COLA formula of $125 in the first year, $125 in the second year and $135 is added to the base salary increases of five per cent and a lumpsum of $2,000 was then added and compounded.The proposal accepted by the PSA-after six months of aggressive talk and various days of protest with specially assigned colours-enhanced insurance coverage and the provision of housing.The fact that Duke settled for the five per cent that had been on the table for months (plus the enhancements) would come as a disappointment to many of the public servants who followed the trade union leader.
But those who feel that their union betrayed them should really be looking at the bigger picture: Neither side walked away from the negotiation getting everything they wanted. And the trade union was obviously swayed by the Government's insistence that the offer of five per cent was presented against a background of the economic realities facing T&T today and the need to stabilise the economy and encourage growth.The fact that Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar was able to broker this agreement with the PSA after one meeting is a huge feather in her cap and in the caps of her collaborators.It consolidates her reputation-following the San Fernando doctors and the Caribbean Airlines disputes-as someone who is able to mediate seemingly intractable differences between and among groups with widely divergent interests.The PSA negotiation was one of three issues that sapped the confidence of the private sector and constrained new investment by either locals or foreigners in T&T.
We call on the Prime Minister to use her new-found skills in conflict resolution to bring immediate closure to the payment of local and foreign contractors and to the policyholders who invested about $10 billion in Clico products.In particular, the Government is facing a barrage of litigation in the Clico matter, which is unlikely to end well for it and therefore the nation. This, plus the huge expense of the Colman Commission of Enquiry involving, as it does, dozens of attorneys, make it imperative for the Prime Minister to intervene quickly in another matter that has remained stuck at the Ministry of Finance for far too long.It's clear that the PSA dispute was resolved by some out-of-the-box thinking, the setting aside of egos, however bruised, and the ability to listen and learn.In the national interest, the Prime Minister should also employ these skills in the disputes with the contractors and the policyholders.