By Gerry Kangalee (NWU National Education and Research Officer)
April 12, 2011
The situation smells to high heaven and is quite rightly being labelled as a sell out by all and sundry. It is rather suspicious that it came when resistance to Government’s wage suppression policy was once again, gaining momentum, after the high point public servants had taken it to last October.
Port of Spain City Council workers, Police Officers, Prison Officers, Teachers, T&TEC workers had begun to mobilise themselves to defend their standard of living and the day before the signing, the National Trade Union Centre (NATUC) had signalled its intention to engage in what it called strategic shut-downs to put pressure on the Government.
The signing of the agreement in such a shocking about-face is a slap in the face for the struggles of all public sector workers, and in particular for PSA members, to win a living wage that could have, in part, dealt with the inflationary spiral that affected the contract period 2008-2010.
It was accepted by all in the labour movement that the struggle against the 5% involved not only members of the PSA. There are, in fact, more than 100,000 workers affected by government’s wage suppression policy, including tens of thousands of low pay daily paid central and local government workers, members of the protective services, teachers, T&TEC workers, workers in the hydrocarbon industry, PTSC workers, MTS workers, UWI workers and many others. Some of these workers have been made a wage offer of 0%:0%:0%.
Let us call a spade a spade! When PSA workers were coming out on the streets in their thousands last October, the leadership of the rest of the labour movement offered token support and did not mobilise their battalions to come out onto the streets.
In a statement posted on our web site on October 19th 2010, the NWU stated:
“… the outcome of this battle between the government and the PSA is going to depend on who is better prepared; on who is better organised and on whether other contingents of public sector workers and their unions who are also faced with long-delayed negotiations stand by and look or themselves engage the government in battle”
In a bulletin issued on October 26th 2010, the NWU stated:
“All public sector workers must mobilise themselves to defend their standard of living which is under severe attack … Public sector workers must hit the streets and engage in strong collective action to defend themselves and their families otherwise crappo smoke all ah we pipe!”
The leadership of the trade union movement, both in NATUC and FITUN refused to mobilise their workers and some union leaders were happy to jump into bed with the government for board positions and other political posts and favours.
The NWU warned workers in the bulletin of October 26th 2010:
“We can’t rely on trade union leaders who are in the bosom of the government to beg them for favours! We do not want favours. A decent standard of living for working people is our right as human beings. We must rely on our unity as working people and be prepared to do all that is necessary to defend our standard of living.”
The chickens, it seems, have come home to roost. The disunity at leadership level of the trade union movement has sabotaged the struggle of workers to keep their heads above water in a period when the international capitalist system is going through convulsions and employers everywhere are trying to maintain their standard of living by driving down that of workers to an indecent and unacceptable level.
Public servants continue to fall behind other workers in the statutory authority and state enterprise sectors as far as wages and other terms and conditions of work are concerned.
For decades unions have negotiated pension plans, medical plans, profit sharing schemes and other social wage benefits. These benefits were not negotiated to substitute for wage increases. They were additional benefits as befits twenty first century industrial relations practice.
It reeks of hypocrisy and deceit for Mr. Duke to attempt to present the winning of these benefits as justification for his abject surrender and capitulation to the government policy of wage suppression.
The so-called housing benefit is an illusion. The government’s housing policy is in a mess. They cannot meet the demand. There is a waiting list of 125,000 for HDC houses. The houses are not free.
Public servants still have to meet the criteria laid down by HDC. The smaller the salary the less will a worker be able to take up the offer. There are public servants who already own their own homes, so the housing benefit will not apply to them, but they also will be stuck with the 5%. It is, therefore, discriminatory, does not apply to all workers and is sheer smoke and mirrors.
To present full insurance coverage for relatives of workers in the medical plan and that the government will contribute more than the workers is a big mamaguy. These are normal provisions in medical plans and have been for years.
The disgusting thing about Mr. Duke’s boasting about the coverage in the medical plan being extended to cover family is that he does not say that the premium is going to more than double from the present $122 to more than $240 (there goes the 5% increase for workers in the lower bracket).
More disgustingly Mr. Duke failed to inform the national community that the major medical coverage increasing to one million dollars and which has not resulted in any increase in premiums has been implemented since June last year and was not negotiated through Kamla’s intervention as he is making people believe.
What is a bit perplexing is the Monthly Paid workers of WASA have long enjoyed these benefits that public servants have only recently begun to receive and they are both represented by the PSA.
How increasing a death benefit helps workers to face the food market is a great mystery. This benefit like the “priceless” medical plan that Mr. Duke boasts about has also been put in place since June last year, is costing the parties nil in premium increases and is not a result of Kamla’s magic wand.
An interesting note is that the three daily paid unions (NUGFW, AWU and CGWTU) agreed with the Chief Personnel Officer since October 2010 that medical coverage will be extended to families. The problem for these low paid workers is that it can’t be implemented until the workers get a pay increase or it will reduce their take home pay.
Anyone who knows anything about job evaluation knows that an evaluation exercise in an organisation as extensive as the public service will take years to complete and while some jobs may be upgraded, others may be downgraded and yet others may be eliminated altogether.
There is no doubt that the leadership of PSA surrendered to the government and abandoned the interests of their members. Why this happened will surely be revealed in the fullness of time.
Workers must learn serious lessons from this episode:
–No agreements must be made with employers without the agreement of the members involved
–Trade unions cannot rely on involvement with political parties financed by and serving the interests of employers
–Disunity in the trade union movement is a dagger in the heart of the working class and must be fought and defeated as a matter of urgency.
Those unions that are still facing the 5% must not use what happened to throw in the sponge and push a defeatist line among the workers. The back-room deal must be denounced. It must be recognised that the government has shown itself to be anti-worker, and those trade union leaders who still cling to its coat tails must be viewed and treated as traitors to the working class, more interested in advancing their personal interests than the interests of their members.
Trade unions have two powerful weapons: the power of numbers and the power to affect production. In the struggle against the 5% the power of numbers was never fully put into motion because of the infighting and division among trade union leaders.
The workers themselves control the power to affect production. There are ways to assert that power over production, by utilising the law: going on legal strike, banning overtime, working to rule, working safe etc. The late great trade unionist, George Weekes, used to say: workers have brain dey ent touch yet!
The working class, despite the betrayal of some of its leaders is capable of defeating the wage suppression policy of the government. If in that effort to advance their interests trade union leaders are perceived as obstacles then they will be swept away.
Our choices are clear: fight and survive or surrender and go into our shell for another decade! The latter choice will most surely see a steady decline in our standard of living in this corrupted country where the majority of our wealth is stolen and appropriated by the twin powers of politicians and big business.