Amalgamated Workers Union settles for 4%

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Amalgamated Workers Union president Michael Prentice signs the collective bargaining agreement at the CPO’s office on Monday. – Photo courtsesy Chief Personnel Officer’s office

THE Amalgamated Workers Union has accepted a four per cent wage increase offer from the Chief Personnel Officer (CPO).

A statement issued on Monday by the CPO’s office said CPO Dr Daryl Dindial and the union signed off on collective agreements for the periods 2014-2016 and 2017-2019

The CPO’s office said Dindial and the union met in person five times, and also virtually over the last six months, to deal with several outstanding issues affecting workers represented by the union.

Some of the major items the parties agreed upon include a new job-evaluation exercise for workers, the alignment of rates of premiums and allowances enjoyed by other daily-rated workers and an increase of those rates, an increase in the rate of Cost of Living Allowance (COLA), the provision of technical and vocational training, and a one-time buyout for retirees in 2014 and 2015 at $4,000 per retiree.

The CPO acknowledged the leadership, intuition, and initiative displayed by the union’s executive during, what he described as, a very difficult negotiation process.

A photograph accompanying the statement showed union president-general Michael Prentice signing the agreement on the union’s behalf at the CPO’s office in Port of Spain.

Earlier this month, the CPO moved Government’s wage offer to public-sector workers for the period 2014-2019 from its previous two per cent position to four per cent. The only public-sector workers represented by the AWU are sanitation workers employed by the Port of Spain City Corporation.

The AWU also represents factory workers at the Bermudez Biscuit Company; funeral attendants and drivers at Belgrove’s Funeral Home; cooks and counter-staff at Royal Castle, clerks and cleaners at the East Side Plaza and New City Mall in Port of Spain.

Efforts to contact Prentice or other AWU officials were unsuccessful.

The Joint Trade Union Movement (JTUM), Police Service Social and Welfare Association (PSSWA), the Prison Officers’ Association (POA) and the Public Services Association are among the trade unions which have rejected the CPO’s four per cent offer.

PSA president Leroy Baptiste opined that AWU’s members may have directed the union to accept the offer.

“Well that’s fine. That is entirely up to them.

“I wish the best for all workers. I wish for all workers that the negotiations could settle on behalf of all workers, that they would not be in a worse-off position than they were in 2013.

“In my view, four per cent means an effective cut in wages based on the inflationary pressures that have devalued the purchasing power of persons’ income.”

From the PSA’s perspective, the four per cent offer has been scrutinised thoroughly by all its internal organs as well as its membership.

Baptiste said, “The position of the PSA remains firm by way of the membership to reject outright that four per cent, as it reflects an effective cut in wages if we were to settle on that.”

Would the AWU’s acceptance of the four per cent weaken the position of other trade unions who are refusing to do so?

Baptiste said his arguments about the offer are not emotionally based.

“I am not begging. The argument is based on negotiating something that I have as my minimum responsibility to help my members maintain their minimum standard of living.”

Baptiste maintained that what public-sector workers would have been able to purchase in 2013, they will not be able to now, even if they accepted the four per cent.

He claimed governments exploit fear on different levels, including the fear that it could take a long time to settle negotiations.

“Workers are in a state of desperation. These workers in general work for very, very small wages.”

Against a background where people are working from paycheck to paycheck, Baptiste opined, “Any opportunity to get a piece of money, Some people will just jump at.”

He said governments exploit these situations in the hope that “will result in people saying ‘Hey take the thing and bring an end to that’.”

National Trade Union Centre (Natuc) general secretary Michael Annisette declined to comment on the AWU’s acceptance.

“I am in an emergency meeting right, right now discussing this.”

Asked if she had a comment on the AWU’s acceptance of the CPO’s offer, TT Unified Teachers Association president Antonia De Freitas said, “No.”

Fire Services Association president Leo Ramkissoon also declined comment.

“No words.”

Communications Workers Union (CWU) general secretary Clyde Elder was not concerned about AWU’s acceptance.

“I suppose each union having its own autonomy will do what they believe to be in the best interest of its members.”