PM Mitchell hopeful for early end to strike action
ST GEORGE’S – Prime Minister Dr Keith Mitchell Tuesday said he hoped “common sense will prevail” and that public workers, who started industrial action to force his administration to heed the demands of two trade unions to conclude negotiations for the 2013-16 period.
“I am very hopeful that common sense will prevail and we will see an end to this impasse,” Prime Minister Mitchell said as he responded to the strike action by public workers.
Last weekend, the Technical and Allied Workers Union (TAWU) and the Public Workers Union (PWU) both announced plans for the industrial action over the failure to pay compensation to workers during the period when the island was implementing an International Monetary Fund (IMF) sanctioned package.
The workers walked off their jobs on Monday.
The unions had originally sought EC$2 000 as a one-off payment for the period 2013-16 but reduced their demand to EC$1 500 after they accepted a payment of EC$1 000 earlier this year with an assurance from the Keith Mitchell government of a possible increase in July.
The government has offered EC$650 but the unions have described that amount as “insulting” to the workers, who they said made sacrifices during the period of the structural adjustment programme.
The Government Negotiating Team (GNT) has described the strike as “disappointing” and that the unions have rejected the mediation effort of the Minister for Labour to settle the dispute of the one-off payment to public service employees.
Mitchell said that if his administration agrees to the demands of the union, it would place an additional financial burden of approximately nine million EC dollars on government expenditure.
He said he feared it could also result in the government losing millions in debt relief while violating at the same time the fiscal responsibility legislation.
“I cannot and will not do anything that will injure our ability to get debt relief . . . we ought not to do anything that will interfere with our opportunity,” Prime Minister Mitchell told reporters following the weekly Cabinet meeting.
The unions say they are pleased with the workers support for the strike, but Prime Minister Mitchell, who is the Minister for Finance, said that most of the employees are on the job.
“His is not having the desired result as they though it would have had,” he said, while admitting that in places where workers did not show up, members of the management team were lending support.
“The leaders are there doing the work,” he said.
Late Monday, the government issued a statement thanking the workers, who had turned up for work, even as the unions announced an escalation of the industrial action.
“Government is pleased with the patriotic and reasonable action of these employees who, by their reporting for work maintained service to the public, particularly at the hospitals, Government Revenue Departments, Customs and several other divisions throughout the state,” the statement noted.
“Government again restates its call for the unions’ leadership to resolve the dispute through the dispute procedure. Government reaffirms its care and respect for all of its employees, and recognizes the right of workers to strike. However, workers are reminded that the exercise of their right to strike extinguishes their right to be paid,” it added. (CMC)