Emergency meeting, Duke takes pounding, accused of ‘Sell out’
By Corey Connelly
April 10, 2011 – newsday.co.tt
Several executive members of the Public Services Association (PSA) are said to be crying betrayal following Friday’s surprise signing of a five percent wage agreement between the Government and the union for public servants.
And they are vowing to hold their ground within the association in condemnation of the offer and what they deemed as the dictatorial management style of President Watson Duke, well-placed sources within the PSA told Sunday Newsday.
Sources said Duke, who is on vacation, did not consult with the entire PSA executive on any plan to agree to the Government’s proposed five percent offer, but had met with only a “privileged few.”
Saying that the signing came as a shock to some in the executive, the source said members were of the view they had been “set up” by their President. The PSA executive has some 13 members.
However, Duke, in a brief telephone interview, yesterday insisted the agreement was the best deal for public servants at this time.
“It is the best agreement the public servants could have found under the circumstances. I don’t think there could have been anything better than this,” said an uncharacteristically subdued Duke.
The PSA head claimed the feedback from the union’s membership to the agreement has been “positive, very positive.” Duke also said his executive was “very happy about the settlement.”
After months of bitter wrangling with the Government over what he had considered to be a meagre proposal, Duke, in an about face on Friday, signed an agreement for a five percent wage offer along with Chief Personnel Officer (CPO) Stephanie Lewis and in the presence of Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar at the Office of the Prime Minister in St Clair.
The signing of the agreement, which was held hours after Persad-Bissessar returned home from her trip to Washington, marked a sharp drop from the union’s longstanding proposal of either a 38 percent salary increase or $6,000 across the board.
The CPO and the PSA had also agreed to a Memorandum of Understanding, inclusive of increases in life insurance coverage, death benefits, car allowances, vehicle maintenance and meal allowances. It also contains a stipulation to partner with the Housing Development Corporation to make housing affordable to public servants. Nevertheless, some executive members insist they had been duped by the union’s leadership, according to sources. Sources, who did not want to be named, said executive members had received telephone calls and text messages from Duke around 10 pm on Thursday, telling them to wear their PSA uniforms to attend a meeting with Persad- Bissessar at 12 noon the following day.
Sources said when the executive members arrived at the Office of the Prime Minister, they were asked to sit around a table. “Finance Minister Mr Dookeran, Errol Mc Leod (Labour Minister ) and Mr (Roodal) Moonilal (Minister of Housing) sat opposite to the executive members,” one source said. “The Prime Minister started talking about texting after 8 pm on Thursday until after 10 pm because Duke and (Christopher) Joefield (first vice President) met with her and they came to a Memorandum of Understanding because they did not want to “fool anybody.”
Sunday Newsday understands that the MOU contained provisions for housing and other allowances.
Sources told Sunday Newsday the executive members had no problem with the MOU up to that point. They, however, became suspicious when CPO Lewis and her team entered the room.
“The table had been set because they knew they were going to sign an agreement. But they didn’t know. They were believing that it was just an MOU. Duke had never consulted with the executive or the general council to say they had reached an agreement,” one source said. Meanwhile, the agreement has left a sour taste among members of the trade union fraternity, some of whom had lent solidarity to the PSA’s struggle for enhanced salaries and working conditions.
President General of the National Union of Government and Federated Workers’ Union (NUGFW) James Lambert said Duke had “sold out” the labour movement.
“I am saying that he has sold out. As President General of NUGFW, I feel very strongly that he has sold out and I am also saying that he has no principle as a leader in the labour movement. That is my personal view,” an incensed Lambert said yesterday.
Lambert said after perusing the conditionalities in the agreement “Brother Duke has really disappointed the entire labour movement because we all worked together on a rejection of the five percent.
“He was the one that initiated it and he was the one that they had first offered the five percent. He called on us and we demonstrated with him.”
Referring to aspects of the MOU, Lambert told Sunday Newsday, “What I have seen there, he has not gotten any incentive of any extent towards his members. I felt on principle he should have called on all the labour leaders who have marched with him over the months, and say to them ‘This is what we have been offered and the executive and our members have accepted it.’”
Lambert singled out the meal allowance, which has moved from $28 to $40.
“When you watch at meal allowance you have $28 but you get $12. You sell out the members for $12 in food. I am saying that it is a disappointment and he did not operate in principle and I am of the view, very strongly, that he did not work in the best interest of the labour movement,” he said.
Lambert said the National Trade Union Centre (NATUC) has scheduled an emergency meeting for Tuesday to discuss the development.
On Thursday, NATUC, which represents some 18 trade unions, threatened a series of national shutdowns if the Government did not settle all outstanding negotiations.
“The point is that since he (Duke) was the front-runnner as it relates to the rejection of the five percent, he has put us in a very precarious situation relative to our negotiations for the rest of the unions,” he argued.
NATUC President Michael Annisette was less condemnatory in his take of the agreement.
“We do not know what the package is but regrettably, we haven’t had the privilege of seeing the package and I do not want to make a comment as it relates to that particular issue until I do a proper scientific evaluation of what the package means in actuality,” he said.
Annisette, President General of the Seamen and Waterfront Workers’ Trade Union, said, however, that a five percent offer was a no-no given the high rate of inflation.