Thousands of public sector workers flooded the streets of Port-of-Spain yesterday.
However, rather than reporting to their offices for work, many of them marched in protest of the Chief Personnel Officer’s offer of a two per cent increase in salaries over eight years.
The march, led by the National Trade Union Centre of Trinidad and Tobago, began at Memorial Park shortly after 10.30 am and ended more than three hours later on the Brian Lara Promenade.
As public servants made their way around the Queen’s Park Savannah and down Alexandra Street to their first stop—the Chief Personnel Officer’s office, they chanted “two per cent? No way” and “Come down from there, Rowley and Imbert.”
There were several other chants that targeted Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley and Finance Minister Colm Imbert that were too profane to repeat in writing.
Many of the protestors blamed Dr Rowley and Imbert for what they said was the suffering of the population.
Some called on the Government to call an early election, saying they were unsatisfied with the representation being offered.
“The standard of living is disgusting. It’s poor. I mean, we can’t believe that 1.5 million people in this country with so much resources could be suffering like that,” a protester, who gave his name only as Don, said.
“Pressure for everybody. That is advantage to the poor people. How could these people live on this kind of money? So you ain’t giving me nothing and I must live? Something is mad in this country…These are the devil self….This is the devil self,” Clement Reyes said while pointing to a picture depicting the Prime Minister as a vampire.
When the protestors arrived at CPO Dr Daryl Dindial’s office, they chanted for him to come down.
Eventually, a member of the CPO’s staff came down to collect a letter from National Union of Government and Federated Workers president-general James Lambert.
Lambert declined to say what his demands were, but said that they were going to demand a better offer than the two per cent that was presented as a first offer.
“We categorically denounce this two per cent increase. We say go back to the negotiating table and re-negotiate a better living wage,” Amalgamated Workers Union general secretary Cassandra Tommy-Dabreao said.
From the CPO’s Alexandra Street Office, the public servants proceeded to the Eric Williams Finance Complex in downtown Port-of-Spain.
It’s likely that the standoff between the Government and the unions representing public sector workers will have to be settled there.
Until then, it seems likely that yesterday’s march will not be the last protest action public sector workers will undertake.
The Government said yesterday that while some public sector workers were absent from duty, things were put in place to prevent its services from being affected.
Contacted yesterday on how the protest action affected the operations of ministries, Minister of Public Administration Allyson West said, “We did not get stats from many ministries. Of those that we did get, their numbers were not significantly affected and the heads were not able to say on short notice how many of the few that were missing were out as a result of the call to protest as opposed to COVID, other sick leave, pre-approved vacation or casual days, or the penchant of our nationals to turn long weekends into even longer ones.”