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Abdulah: 5% wage hike not enough
Government Senator David Abdulah says a five per cent wage increase for public servants is not enough. He made the point at yesterday’s Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies (SALISES) forum on “The Current Industrial Relations Climate in T&T”. The event, held at the University of the West Indies (UWI) Institute of International Relations, also featured Public Services Association (PSA) president Watson Duke and UWI’s director of human resources Hollis Nicholas. It was chaired by Professor Selwyn Ryan. Abdulah added: “Government must find an equilibrium between its financial position and what is fair and just for workers.
“Spending resources would stimulate the economy and one way is to pay public servants increased wages. “We may face a budget deficit for a period, once not too large, income would come back to the Government through more significant economic activity.” He admitted the Government still had significant income from the oil and gas industry but said the country was in a period of economic readjustment. In his presentation, Abdulah downplayed the current labour relations situation, saying it is far from the worst T&T had experienced in its history. He drew reference to labour issues during the 1980s, giving the packed lecture room a long list of struggles the labour movement faced and overcame during that period, including the loss of jobs of thousands of workers through the closure of major industries in T&T.
In contrast, Duke, in his presentation, compared the local labour relations climate to the recent unrest in several Middle Eastern countries, predicting similar civil unrest unless the demands of public servants were met. Duke added: “It is easy for a country to be destroyed. It is fragile. “If the country is shut down for one week, it would be worse than the 1990 coup and would receive more media attention than a Miss World pageant.” When pressed by members of the audience about his position on productivity-related pay, Duke said productivity had nothing to do with wage increases. He said: “The PSA is not interested in reasoning at this time, just give us what you owe us and then we will talk productivity after.”
Duke described the PSA’s proposed wage increases as mere “survival money” when considering inflation and standard of living costs. Abdulah, who is also the president of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions also noted that significant labour legislation reform was needed in T&T. He cited the Workmen’s Compensation Act, the Industrial Relations Act and the Occupational Safety and Health Act as key areas where reform was necessary. Abdulah said: “This will strengthen the labour movement and will allow unions to better defend the rights of workers.”
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