Duke accepts 5% …accused of ‘Sell out’

Emergency meeting, Duke takes pounding, accused of ‘Sell out’

By Corey Connelly
April 10, 2011 – newsday.co.tt

President of the PSA Watson DukeSeveral 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.


5 thoughts on “Duke accepts 5% …accused of ‘Sell out’”

  1. Well done, Madame
    But those who feel that their union betrayed them should really be looking at the bigger picture: Neither side walked away from the negotiation getting everything they wanted. And the trade union was obviously swayed by the Government’s insistence that the offer of five per cent was presented against a background of the economic realities facing T&T today and the need to stabilise the economy and encourage growth. The fact that Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar was able to broker this agreement with the PSA after one meeting is a huge feather in her cap and in the caps of her collaborators.

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  2. There is a strategy managers use when negotiating. Its full of bad faith. They drag out the negotiations for a very long time, while the cost of living soars. If its a company making a product, they spend about nine months stockpiling inventory, so that they could keep in business during a strike. Then they lock the employees out while continuing to supply their customers.Then when the strikers have negated any meaningful gains by virtue of lost wages, they offer a small amount that does not offset the loss.
    Then it seems that the employees are being difficult. Duke should recruit Toussaint from the New Your Transit system.

  3. Union heads lash out
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    Baptiste-Primus: A blow to all trade unions
    Former president of the Public Services Association (PSA) Jennifer Baptiste-Primus claims the association’s president Watson Duke agreed to the five per cent wage increase for public servants long before signing the agreement with Chief Personnel Officer Stephanie Lewis.

    PSA made ‘good deal’
    Public Services Association (PSA) president Watson Duke’s message to trade unions was to “wine to de side” and allow industrial peace to prevail, Minister of Housing Dr Roodal Moonilal said yesterday.

    Moonilal hails wage pact
    As president of the Public Services Association (PSA) Watson Duke faces stinging criticism from fellow labour leaders, Housing Minister Dr Roodal Moonilal yesterday defended the union boss, insisting he (Duke) did what was best for public servants.

  4. Good Deal for Public Servants
    Stephen Kangal
    PSA President, HRH The Duke of Abercombry Street must be commended for negotiating and successfully concluding a new, ground-breaking template in industrial wage and benefits agreement on behalf of public servants. Various allowances and COLA have been consolidated into the base wage prior to the 5% increase.
    In the past when the PSA achieved high percentage increases exclusively as a basis for new wage settlements the merchants automatically increased the prices of their goods and services according to this percentage increase and the BIR made a killing on additional income taxes. The Public servants were no better off at the end of the agreement having lost the agreed increase to the merchants and the tax-man.
    I have always supported PSA wage negotiations that are premised on negotiating increases in allowances and a package of employee benefits that are non-taxable. This is a real increase in the standard of living. Accordingly I welcome the Health Plan, increased upkeep allowances, insurance benefits and the housing plan on top of the five percent salary increase. The benefits package may very well result in a 30% increase or more. Other unions can now negotiate benefits packages and downplay the percentage salary increases that are sometimes taxable at 50%.
    The PSA must negotiate a housing plan that provides for Government to make state lands available for the PSA to undertake its own housing settlements in addition to those to be available under the HDC. The PSA can also then make housing plots available to public servants to supervise the building of their own personalized homes on HMB loan arrangements using small builders and artisans to ensure sound construction standards and provide business to local hard-ware dealers. This will help to kick-start the languishing but important construction industry.
    The PSA/CPO has set a new bench-mark for public sector salary negotiations.

  5. The PSA employees are only seeing 5% but really contracts are not just about incremental increases, it is about the whole package. Additionally PSA members have job protection. The union in Britan and other parts of world vitually kill government with demands. That is not the way to negotiate. The union have to take a practical approach to the global climate and the uncertainty in the world markets. Right now oil is king but for how long? However, I notice Trini unions like to put things high up and then behave like a spoilt children or wajangs if they don’t have their way…

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