The decision by the island’s largest public sector union to accept a proposed 4.5 per cent wage hike from Government, has been accepted by the majority of its members.
After an hour-and-a-half-long closed-door meeting at the National Union of Public Workers’ (NUPW) Dalkeith headquarters which began at 5 p.m. today, NUPW President Akanni McDowall broke the news in a very short statement to reporters.
“We met today with the general membership and the majority have agreed with the decision taken by the National Council,” McDowall said, while adding that “there were very few people who did not agree”.
The NUPW boss also said the wage increase proposals had been sent off to the Ministry of Civil Service for approval.
“Once we have a response from them we will communicate with the public accordingly,” he said, without any mention of a timeline.
The development comes a day after the NUPW tossed its own 23 per cent pay proposal out the window after more than a year of unsuccessful negotiations with the previous Freundel Stuart Government.
However, after less than two weeks in office, the Mia Mottley-led administration has been able to get the union to agree to a single digit increase of 4.5 per cent over three years, covering the negotiating period 2016 to 2019.
In the face of harsh criticisms from Opposition Senator and trade unionist Caswell Franklin who has accused the union of selling out the workers, one NUPW official, who did not want to be identified by name, has strongly defended the union’s decision saying, “it is the Democratic Labour Party Government that the union put the 23 per cent to, but there is a new Government so there must be a new contract so therefore the 23 per cent is off the table”.
However, his position was at odds with that of another NUPW member, who questioned the reason for today’s meeting since the pay hike appeared to be a done deal between the union and Government.
“Why they call us up here. The letter was sent since 12 o’clock yesterday [to the Ministry]. There is no taking it back. Why call the people and say you are negotiating. You can’t negotiate, because the letter with the information is already plugged into the equation,” he said.
“The problem is, you don’t know if you are getting 4.5 [per cent] for 100 per cent of the workforce that is existing now, or 70 per cent, because nothing the Government does can widen the deficit, based on salaries,” he added, while making reference to current discussions between Government and the International Monetary Fund on a balance of payments support programme for the island.
Last December the then Stuart-led Government had offered the union a $49 million lump sum payment that would have seen civil servants at the higher end of the salary scale receiving a two per cent payment for one year and those at the lower end a five per cent hike, based on a sliding scale.
To sweeten the deal, the former Government had also proposed to make the payments tax free and devoid of any National Insurance deductions.
However, the proposal, which fell outside of the union’s demands for a 23 per cent increase, still did not sit well with the NUPW’s executives who said the payments would have amounted to less than $2,500 per worker.
This gave rise to demands by the union for $11 million more.
A breakdown of talks followed with the NUPW opting to embark on industrial action last January to little effect and following the dissolution of Parliament in March, the Stuart administration announced that it would be ceasing all salary negotiations with the union given the poor state of economy.