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Wrong strategy by Duke in wage Battle

Published: 
Thursday, March 17, 2011

The president of the Public Services Association (PSA), Watson Duke, and members of the executive should rethink the strategies being employed in their effort to obtain increased salaries for employees of the Public Service. If for no other reason, they should recognise, by now, that one of the negatives of their “antics” of marches and slogans has been a fall in public perception of the esteem, dignity and national loyalty which ought to be associated with employment as a public servant. Indeed, without intending to cast aspersions on any individuals, one forms the impression that active membership of the PSA, and consequently the decision-making process within the union, is now confined predominantly to the clerical and non-professional classes of the Public Service, since, were this not the case, Duke and his executive would have embarked on a different approach in the current negotiations. Do they not have at their disposal such data as would inform of the state of the national economy, thereby allowing an exercise of sound judgment as to the level of salaries and wages which the economy could bear without recourse to the strategies and tactics of which use is being made?

In the above connection, it is assumed that the union is aware of the strategic and influential position of the PSA as a driving force by providing guidelines not only within the public sector as a whole but also for the private sector as well. One would therefore expect Duke and his executive to adopt an approach in the negotiations which is sober, less belligerent and dictated by sound analysis of facts. Have they taken cognisance of the atmosphere and professional modus operandi which prevailed during the long period of incumbency of Hilton Cupid as Chief Personal Officer? Is the approach of Duke and his executive being dictated by the “troubles” which are bedevilling internal relationships within the union?

Apart from the laudable attempts to obtain improved accommodation for public servants, there appears to be a complete absence of other issues which require the attention of Duke and his executive as part of the process of obtaining improved terms and conditions of employment for their membership. It seems clear that the union has been concentrating predominantly on the relatively short-term matter of salary increases, even accepting the relative importance of this in the general scheme of things. Has cognisance been taken of the fact that experience has shown that, given the structure of our economy, salary increases in the Public Service always set off a gallopping inflationary spiral which tends to erode, in varying degrees, whatever increases had been awarded. Needless to say, this phenome-non affects more adversely the lower echelons of the Public Service. Has Duke and his executive considered whether an across-the-board increase is in the best inteest of his less well-paid membership? Have they given thought to the matter of a “regrading” of positions in the Public Service? An across-the-board increase in percentage terms will certainly increase the already skewed inequality in salaries among public servants.

An area in which the PSA has failed, and continues to fail, its membership is that of retirement pensions.
Members of the union should bear in mind their own forthcoming retirement upon attaining the statutory compulsory age of retirement. The almost indigent disposition of countless retired public servants is well known. The following are contributory factors in this unsatisfactory state of affairs: The complete absence of any established machinery for an indexed-based adjustment in retirement benefits over time, as obtains in most socially-conscious jurisdictions. The fact that pensions are calculated on the assumption that the average Public Service retiree would live only a relatively short period after his or her retirement. This no longer obtains given that with a “reasonable” lifestyle a retiree can now expect to attain an age of 80 and beyond. Public Service retirees do not have any meaningful representation, being cast aside by the PSA, of which they may have been members paying dues to the union. In this regard, some retirees have had recourse to make representation to the Minister of Finance to “run something” at budget time through such organisations as the Trinidad and Tobago Association of Retired (now changed to Responsible, whatever that may mean) Persons or an embryonic Retired Public Servants Association.

Hopefully the union will address the matter of the announcement by the Minister of Finance that pension reform is on the Government’s agenda. In this regard it is assumed that a regime of a contributory retirement pension scheme is contemplated. In addressing this matter of pension reform, it must be borne in mind that the present gratuity and pension provisions are based on the assumption of low or non-existent inflationary tendencies.  Their non-contributory nature is intended to represent recompense to the recipient for long and meritorious service to the State, with less than a certain length of service normally attracting neither gratuity nor pension.Finally, to end on a somewhat positive note. The union has always seen the need for medical insurance for its membership. However, previous attempts at making permanent arrangements have foundered through what appears to have been maladministration on the part of designated insurers. It seems, however, that the current arrangements (which were put in place by the Primus leadership) appear to be holding. It is in their period of retirement that former public servants will require increased medical attention. Are they being covered by present arrangements?

Errol OC Cupid
Trincity, Tacarigua