PM: Increasing offer to public servants will cost too much

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Prime Minister Dr Rowley –

The Prime Minister has said offering a further pay increase to public servants would mean the country would have to borrow to pay back pay, as well as the new figures going forward.

Speaking at a national PNM meeting at the Calvary Community Centre in Arima on Tuesday, Dr Rowley said the $4 billion increase in revenue from the current increased price of oil and gas was used to pay off government expenses.

“Last week we went to Parliament and added $3.1 billion to the budget to pay for out of the $4 billion, and all the things we said we would do. Nobody got up and said, ‘Don’t do this, don’t do that.’

“That $3.1 billion covered expenses that the government was carrying, and if we hadn’t gotten that unusual increase, we would have had to go and borrow another $3.1 billion, and since the budget already had a deficit of $9.1 billion, if we had gone and borrowed, the budget for 2022 would have had a budget of $12 billion.

“Those are the realities of our circumstances. So while there has been improvement in our circumstances, when someone comes up and asks for X per cent, we have to determine, is that affordable?”

Rowley said the offer to public servants had to be reasonable. He reminded listeners that no public servant had lost their job, which government thought was as important as increasing the amount each person was paid. He gave figures of what the government would have to pay if an increase over the two per cent on offer was made.

“The Chief Personnel Officer has offered one per cent for each of the two periods.

“Let’s double that and go to two plus two, for a total of four per cent. That will cost a backpay of $1.45 billion if that’s all you do, and of course an additional $730 million a year to put forward, because once you change the pay, there’s a permanent increase going forward.

“Question is, is that sustainable? Having spent $3.1 of the $4.2 billion already, and the back pay at two per cent being $1.45 billion, we would have to borrow $450 million to pay the back pay.

“Let’s get generous, with eight per cent, four plus four. That will cost, in back pay, $3.6 billion, and an additional annual cost of $1.4 billion.

“Do you see that money in the Treasury in Trinidad and Tobago at that time? Do you see the Ministry of Finance being able to find that money every month to make sure that you with jobs get paid at the end of the month?” When the PNM came into government, he said, “We met a 14 per cent back pay that cost us $6 billion, and we borrowed the money and paid it. Are you, the people of TT, telling the government to do the same thing again?”

Dr Rowley said the last time parliamentarians, including MPs and Cabinet members, received a pay increase was in 2014, and there were no plans to increase their current salaries.

President general of the National Union of Government and Federal Workers (NUGFW) James Lambert said the union was not interested in the PM’s calculations about what increasing the offer would cost the country.

“Only when it comes to poor people and workers he will calculate to know what it would cost the country. When they raised the pension, he never came to tell the country parliamentarians will cost so and so. When he gave the businessmen the returns in VAT, he never said how much it would cost. When they have all the jobs building bridges and contracts all over the place, we doesn’t hear about the contracts, all the fees for lawyers and attorneys serving the country.

“You get nothing and you don’t hear how much it cost, but to pay poor people who working and ready to boost the economy, he wants the country to know how much it would cost.”

Lambert said if the government is boasting that the economy is looking good, why is the figure being proposed so low?

“If you want to feed us later down in the years that it drop to $50, when we will get something? When the PNM in power they never have anything to give workers. When we would get, when we don’t have? So what he want us to do, pauperise ourselves and hope that in the next 50 years we will put aside something for the country?

“I am not taking on the PM and that nonsense. We will deal with that Friday on the platform.”On Friday a number of trade unions are planning to march to protest against the low pay increase the Chief Personnel Officer has offered to public servants.