If public sector wage negotiations are eventually settled at more than eight per cent, back pay alone could cost the Government over $5 billion (TT) Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley said in his 2022 Labour Day address.
Last month, the Chief Personnel Officer made a two per cent initial offer over an eight-year period from 2014-2021. Rowley said the offer has since been increased to four per cent over a six-year period 2014-2019, which will cost the Government $2.5 billion in back pay up to June 2022, and they are committed to a further $500 million, annually, just for the civil service, teaching service, defence force, protective services and daily rated workers.
“To this must be added the cost of a wage increase for statutory authorities and state enterprises, which will increase the total cost of a four per cent increase by as much as a further 50 per cent. Should negotiations be settled at eight per cent, those figures will literally double, taking back pay to over $5 billion and the annual recurrent cost to over $1.5 billion.”
He also said he was “puzzled” by the “strong language” of the labour movement and acknowledged the labour leaders' "dissatisfaction".
“I will admit that the strong language, which is being repeated in the public space, has left me a bit puzzled, because it does not reflect, either normal industrial relations practice, or the economic realities facing T&T. It is being said that the labour movement feels disrespected by the initial offer to public sector trade unions, although I, clearly indicated that the offer was the initial negotiating position and that negotiation would soon begin with the various bodies.”
He also referred to the Central Bank’s statements that the current windfall in energy revenues was “temporary” and should be used instead to fund the adjustments in the national budget, caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This could be likened to an unrealistic situation of a person who maintains a comfortable, heady lifestyle, and when an unexpected financial benefit comes, he or she immediately splurges it–still continuing to borrow to pay his/her monthly rent.”
The PM asked, “Fellow citizens, should T&T pursue such an example?”
Rowley said that his Government continues to be financially “prudent” and it takes into account the daily struggles of the ordinary workers of the country.
“Each member of my Cabinet, I will also say, brings to our weekly meetings the real-life, daily experiences of those they serve, so collectively we are aware of the difficulties of the many thousands living on the marginal line. We are also aware of the larger, looming challenges facing the labour movement.”
He spoke about how the digital revolution is transforming the world and changing how people do business, and warned that those who do not adapt will die.
“On the horizon is the larger prospect that every job, every business, every aspect of 21st-century life will be restructured. No job, particularly, the unskilled, no company, no government, no economy will be immune to disruption in this century. The reality of the century is a fast-paced revolution, which is re-shaping every pocket, every job, every family, every infrastructure, all governments, all economies. Larger challenges are still ahead, because every organisation, private or public, will have to transform itself, from within–in multiple ways or fade and die.”
Rowley said the challenge of the labour movement is to ensure that the worker in this century understands the realities, places his or herself within the larger picture and recognises the need to “up-skill” for the new market–not lose energy on short-term gains.
He remained optimistic, saying that it was not all doom and gloom and that the country has a bright future once the right decisions are made.
“Fellow citizens, let us not dwell on or be overcome by our basket of passing difficulties. We are not alone. The whole world is facing this most difficult period. Our difficulty will only overcome us if we fail to see it for what it is and make long-term decisions on short-term illogic that defy our God-given talents.”
He concluded that the Government of T&T, in all its policies and social programmes, stands with the labour in representing these and all citizens who expect the best of what the country could afford.