PSA ready to sign off on Imbert’s wage offer

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

PSA President Leroy Baptiste Photo by Sureash Cholai

INSISTING the figures given by Finance Minister Colm Imbert for the public-sector wage negotiations are “grossly inflated,” president of the Public Services Association (PSA) Leroy Baptiste said nevertheless, he is ready to sign off on what was offered on Monday.

“I have listened to the figures bandied about by the Ministry of Finance as it relates to the cost of settlement of negotiations. Let me be clear, I dispute those figures. Those figures are completely misleading. They are grossly inflated.”

But, Baptiste said, “The figures Imbert has touted as to what it would cost to settle negotiations with the PSA is an increase in the annual expenditure of $500 million and the total back pay to settle with my people is $2.4 billion up to June 2023. I am comfortable with that.

“Tell the Minister of Finance I want to sign that. Forget the four per cent offer. I want it in black and white.

“He says $500 million annual increase of expenditure – tick, I want that and I want $2.4 billion to settle arrears for the 15,000 public officers I represent.

“I would sit down and work out the formula, how that is to be distributed to my members, with the Chief Personnel Officer. Just let me sign.”

If Imbert read it into Monday’s budget, Baptiste said, “It means it is there for me. It is there for my members.”

In his seventh budget presentation on Monday, Imbert dubbed the PSA’s counter-offer unsustainable. unrealistic and equivalent to the annual national budget.

He said government’s four per cent offer, to settle negotiations from 2014-2019 for the mainstream public service, although challenging, is both practical and equitable.

He said it is the best Government can do at this time and it stands ready to make good on its offer once accepted. If trade unions, however, choose the Industrial Court approach, they would ask for these matters to be expedited.

Central to the efficient functioning of the public service, he pointed out, is the establishment of a fair and equitable compensation system for public-sector employees.

The approach to achieving this objective, he insisted, must be careful and consistent with the availability of resources.

“No responsible government can contemplate bankrupting the entire country simply to appease a portion of the labour force.”

The Amalgamated Workers Union hasaccepted the offer and Imbert is hopeful others will follow suit.

“It must be emphasised that the additional annual recurrent cost of our offer is approximately $500 million. It should be noted, if this offer is extended to the wider state sector, the additional cost will almost double to approximately $1 billion a year.

“The back pay that we have accrued to June 2023 from our offer, for just the mainstream public service, is $2.4 billion. This will increase to $4.6 billion if the entire state sector is included,” Imbert argueed.

As difficult as these amounts will be to accommodate, he gave a commitment to find the money and make the required payments promptly.

He warned, “Any more than this will wreck the economy, not just for the same public servants but for everyone else.

“By way of example, the counter-offer made by the PSA is unsustainable. The PSA has countered the four per cent with a demand for 19 per cent increase in salary for the three-year period 2014-2016. It is only one half of the period of our offer. If accepted this would cost $15.8 billion in arrears up to June 2023.

“The additional annual recurrent cost will be $1.8 billion.

“If the PSA offer is extended to the wider state sector, $30.3 billion in back pay would be required up to June 2023. The additional annual recurrent cost will be $3.4 billion.”

Imbert said these calculations do not take into account the second period of negotiations for 2017-2019, which if agreed to, could create a back-pay requirement of $50 billion, equivalent to the total national expenditure.

“Clearly these are not serious counter-proposals. They may sound good to encourage marches or threats, but I am certain the leaders know the facts, the reality and what is doable.

“It should be obvious that demands of this nature cannot be met. Anyone who believes that the country can afford this level of expenditure – $50 billion – they simply would not be realistic.”