Finance Minister Colm Imbert –
Minister of Finance Colm Imbert has clarified that no permanent secretary in his ministry gave any notification that back pay promised to public-sector workers in the 2024 budget would not be paid by Christmas as promised.
Speaking at a virtual press conference on Wednesday, Imbert clarified statements by the Prime Minister, who said a permanent secretary had told a minister the payments could not be made until May 2024.
“We have made a commitment to provide $1 billion in back pay for workers whose trade unions accepted the offer of four per cent,” he said.
“I went back and looked at the video. (The PM said) a permanent secretary told the minister that backpay would not be paid until May 2024.
“The Prime Minister was speaking about the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Education, and the minister was the Minister of Education,” he said.
“I can tell you none of my permanent secretaries, in the eight years that I have been here, have ever told me that they would not make their best effort to do whatever assignment given to them.
“And no permanent secretary in this Ministry of Finance would ever tell me that they would not make good on a commitment given in the annual budget, especially since they are involved in the preparation of the budget speech and the preparation of the estimates.”
He added the permanent secretary made the statement to the Education Minister amid issues with staffing resources to calculate and audit back pay for all 17,000 teachers.
He said the government is working with the ministry to source people to assist with the calculations to ensure the payment is on time.
“Calculations have to be done for every single worker, teachers in this case. You have to look at their payment record going back to 2014 and calculate the amount of back pay that is due to them for each teacher. Each one of those calculations has to be audited. Then a payment file is created with all 17,000 teachers, and that is sent to the treasury so it could be paid by Christmas 2023.”
He said the Defence Force has already been paid. He said close to September, 30 representatives of the Defence Force sought and obtained approval and received funding to pay the officers.
“So the Defence Force gone clear already,” he said.
He noted that the payment was limited to those public-sector organisations who, through their unions, accepted the four per cent increase offer made by the government in June 2022. The unions that accepted represented the defence force, which included the Army, Coast Guard and Air Guard; the Fire Services Association; the Prison Services Association; and the TT Unified Teachers Association.
“The Public Servants’ Association (PSA) and the trade union that represents daily-paid workers, those unions have not accepted the Government’s offer of four per cent,” Imbert said.
As a result, he said, “They don’t fall within the definition of us paying all of the workers whose trade unions accepted the four per cent.”
TT Police Social and Welfare Association (TTPSWA) President Gideon Dickson said while the police service now has 7,884 officers, those in the service from 2014 will benefit. He highlighted that police officers who retired in 2014 and 2015 will receive the retirees’ one-off payment of $4,000. Dickson said the TTPS’ finance branch is working to meet the deadline.
“All hands are on deck (we are reliably informed),” Dickson said in a WhatsApp message. “The deadline should be met.”
President of the Fire Service’s Association Leo Ramkissoon said the fire service’s capacity was between 2,500 and 2,700, all of whom would benefit from the back pay payment.
He however expressed concern that while administrators in the Fire Service were mandated by the Finance Ministry to work on assessing and auditing payments, the Fire Service seems to be the furthest behind in assessment.
“That, of course, is a concern for fire officers, and we hope that we are not less favourably treated than other agencies,” he said.
Imbert called the press conference to highlight fiscal incentives listed in budget 2024, which included incentives for farmers and farming infrastructures, community gardening projects, wood and wood-product manufacturing apprenticeship programmes, village improvement projects and school supply grants for children in low-income homes.
He also pointed out the rebate scheme for electricity bills that are $300 or less. He said this rebate should offset any proposed increases in electricity bills for minimum-wage workers.
“The vast majority of households in TT, their bill is in that region. “Therefore, the increase in rates will fall within the rebate schemes. And we always said we will help the vulnerable.
“So if we have to tweak the rebate schemes so it does not increase whatsoever for people at the lowest end, or you will just have a marginal increase for them because the rebate is kicking in, I don’t think that the increase in electricity rates will have any significant effect on minimum-wage workers.”