Prison Association rejects CPO’s wage deal with senior officers as ‘illegal’

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

President of the Prison Service First Division Officers’ Association Fabien Alexander, centre, with members of his executive at the signing of the agreement in the Sandra Marchack Conference Room at the Offices of the Personnel Department, Newtown, Port of Spain on March 31. – Photo courtesy Office of the Chief Personnel Officer

President of the Prison Officers’ Association Gerard Gordon has described the four per cent wage agreement between the first division prison officers and the Chief Personnel Officer Dr Daryl Dindial as “reprehensible and desperate.”

In a media release on March 31, Gordon claimed the wage settlement was illegal as the association was the only recognised body to negotiate on behalf of all prison officers.

On March 31, Dindial and Assistant Commissioner of Prisons Felix Alexis signed a memorandum of agreement giving the senior ranks a four per cent wage increase for the periods 2014-2016 and 2017-2019.

Gordon said: “The charade put on today (March 31) by the Chief Personnel Officer and certainly supported by the state in having an illegitimate, unrecognised pseudo-organisation sign a memorandum of agreement as it relates to outstanding periods under dispute is reprehensible and desperate.”

“I state without reservation that this so-called ‘First Division Association’ does not exist and only exists in the minds of those who wish to undermine the Prison Officers’ Association and all of its members.”

A first division officer is categorised as anyone with the rank of assistant superintendent to assistant commissioner of prison. Deputy Commissioner and Commissioner of Prison go before the Salaries Review Commission for their remuneration packages.

In a media release on March 31, Dindial said: “Apart from the four per cent salary increase, there were adjustments to allowances such as plain clothes, meals, laundry, special responsibility, travelling, Cost of Living Allowance (COLA), as well as a lump sum payment of $4,000 to officers who retired compulsorily, voluntarily, with permission on the grounds of illness for the period 2014-2016.”

In his budget presentation last year, Finance Minister Colm Imbert said the government was only prepared to offer a four per cent wage increase for 2014-2019.

The offer was first accepted by the Amalgamated Workers’ Union on August 29 and in November the Defence Force accepted the offer. The Defence Force was the first of the protective services to accept, followed by the police service in December last year and signed off in February.

Imbert said then that negotiations between the Prison Officers’ Association, the TT Unified Teachers’ Association (TTUTA), police and the TT Fire Service Association and the CPO had been referred to a special tribunal of the Industrial Court.

He said discussions could go no further, adding that the government’s offer for two negotiating periods remains on the table for any one of the unions to accept which would end the matter before the tribunal.

Gordon claimed the government has “weaponised” the industrial court against unions and remains open to discussions in a fair and open process and not guerilla warfare. He said his association remains the only recognised bargaining union for all prison officers regardless of their rank and will not be “cajoled or bullied.”

“The signing only confirms the state has no clue what they are doing. When one has power and no understanding of the statutes, policies and procedures surrounding these very sensitive situations it becomes easy to weaponise institutions like the Special Tribunal of the Industrial Court as they seek to lay waste to essential workers of all classes.”