The Keith Mitchell-led government is hoping to pay out some EC22.9 million dollars to public officers in salary increases for 2017-19, according to Minister for Labour, Economic Development, Trade, and Planning, Oliver Joseph
Speaking to reporters Tuesday at the first post-Cabinet Press Briefing for 2017 at the Ministerial Complex, Minister Joseph said this figure was arrived at based on an agreement already hammered out with the Grenada Union of Teachers (GUT).
He is hopeful that the two other public sector unions – Public Workers Union (PWU) and the Technical & Allied Workers Union (TAWU) – will come on board and sign-off on a similar package for their members.
Both unions have already rejected a one-off payment for civil servants of EC$1000.00 that was accepted by GUT.
According to Minister Joseph, public officers can expect a 3% increase for 2017, which will amount to $6.5 million, a 3% increase for 2018, amounting to $6.9 million and 4% for 2019 which will cost $9.5 million.
He said the sacrifices that workers made as a result of the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) over the past three years did not go unnoticed by government and it was because of this that the salary increases can be made.
He made a plea for public officers to accept the offer on the table in the negotiations because government cannot bite more than it can chew because the island can go back to where it was before the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP.)
The senior government minister said that the first target set by government under the programme was to tackle the situation in which out of every dollar collected in taxes 70 cents was being used to pay salaries.
He recalled that the Washington-based International Monetary Fund (IMF) was suggesting back then that civil servants would have to be sent home in order to contain the monthly wage bill.
“…I recall that one of the advice that they (IMF) presented to us was, ‘well you said 70 cents on every dollar goes towards paying salaries and wages; you need to reduce it to under 50% and you would have to send home workers because if you send home workers the wage bill drops and we say no we are not sending home a single worker”, he
“We said we would introduce an attrition policy in order to get the civil service down – we will increase on the revenue so that more money will be available for recurrent expenditure,” he added.
In a clear message to those public sector unions that have not signed onto the deal that was worked out with GUT, Minister Joseph pointed out that the Mitchell government has no intention of getting back in the situation it was once in.
“As we go forward into negotiations, we have to be very careful that we do not erode the gains of the home-grown (Structural Adjustment) Programme. In other words, if we give salary increases where we increase the percentage of recurrent expenditure that we used for salary; if we bring it back up to what it was, then we have lost all the gains”, he said.
He added that the Social Partners like the churches, and non-governmental organisations that were very instrumental in the programme have often insisted that government should “not take any measure that will bring you back to where you were”.
Minister Joseph also told reporters that the salary increases on the table is a direct result of government adhering in the Fiscal Responsibility Act that met with approval from the IMF.
“We have passed the Fiscal Responsibility Act that set certain targets that we must meet and we are guided by this act and as a responsible government we have said that workers have made sacrifices and have said to the union in the salary negotiations that we must live within our means …we just cannot go and give increases outside of what we agreed to in the Fiscal Responsibility Act”, he said.
According to Minister Joseph, the plan makes provisions for fringe benefits to public officers of over $3.6 million, and the much-talked about one-off payment that will amount to $5.9 million in total to public officers.
This $5.9 million will cover the period 2013-16 in which $1000 will be paid to each public officer who has worked for more than one year and $500 for those employees who worked for less than a year.
The minister stated that this is as far as the government can go in terms of a negotiated settlement with the two remaining unions.
“So, while government is cognisant that this lump sum payment may not be in line with employees’ expectation, given the current fiscal responsibilities and indeed to ensure that the wage bill is sustainable, it is the optimal payout that can be afforded at this time,” he said.
PWU and TAWU have written to Labour Commissioner, Cyrus Griffith notifying him of a breakdown in the negotiations with government on the issue of the one-off payment.