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12% WAGE HIKE

By Janelle De Souza Wednesday, December 18 2013

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CHRISTMAS came early this year for more than 40,000 daily rated workers who were yesterday celebrating the news that they would benefit from a 12 percent wage hike, representing possibly the highest increase in salaries in the public sector signed by the People’s Partnership administration.

The news was seen as an early Christmas present by some members of the National Union of Government and Federated Workers for Central Government (NUGFW) as they have something good to look forward to in the new year.

The double digit award comes approximately one year after the workers received a nine percent wage increase for 2008 to 2010.

The agreement was signed yesterday between Chief Personnel Officer (CPO) Stephanie Lewis and the NUGFW for the Central Government, certain Municipal Corporations and the Tobago House of Assembly for the current period of 2011 to 2013.

Sources estimate the new wages could run between $8 million to $16 million per day based on the rates of the increase of $208.60 to $244.50 for labourers, $240.60 to $280 for checkers, and $349 to $400 for foremen.

President General of NUGFW, James Lambert, yesterday told union members and members of the press that the 12 percent increase came about “because of the astute management of the finances of the country” by Finance Minister Larry Howai.

“As you would be aware, there is a growth in the economy and therefore the people of the country must also grow as the economy grows,” he said. During a press conference at the union’s office on Henry Street, Port-of-Spain, Lambert described it as “a memorable day” since the agreement was signed before the period of the collective agreement expired on December 31, 2013. He commended and congratulated Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, her Government and Howai for the achievement.

While he said the economy could not improve without workers, Lambert admitted that the level of productivity in the country, especially in the public sector, was very low. He said if the current levels continue, it would “kill the economy and the country”.

“The level of productivity cannot be attributed only to daily rated workers. It is the system in Trinidad and Tobago and it goes throughout the public service, from top to bottom. I am calling upon the Government, the CPO, deemed to be the employer, that we must have a policy to enable us to lift the level of productivity in Trinidad and Tobago,” he said.

He also asked that a tripartite committee comprising of trade unions, business and Government be formed to amend the Industrial Relations Act. “There are too many hindrances as it relates to collective bargaining and to enable trade unions to get a certificate of recognition as it relates to when we apply for recognition,” he said.

Economist Indira Sagewan-Ali told Newsday that, from a social perspective, the 12 percent increase would have a positive impact on workers, as they would be going home with more money. However she noted that it would increase the country’s recurrent expenditure.

Sagewan-Ali said the most important implications to the agreement would be that there may be an overall call for Government to increase the $12.50 minimum wage.

However, Rudranath Indarsingh, Minister of State in the Ministry of Finance and the Economy, disagreed with Sagewan-Ali.

“I don’t think it would put pressure on the Government to increase the minimum wage. Any responsible government will want to ensure that workers have the appropriate income. However the wider economy of Trinidad and Tobago will have to be taken into consideration. In time, a minimum wage increase would be looked at,” he said.

Indarsingh, a former trade union leader, added that the resolution of the matter, without the intervention of a third party or industrial action, showed the commitment on the part of Government to let collective bargaining take its course.

“We know it was tough but at the end of the day the workers stand to benefit from the package. It shows that when companies and respective unions put their heads together, in spite of what happens across the negotiating table, it can only redound to the benefit of the organisations as well as to the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago,” he said.

Indarsingh then advised workers to utilise the money wisely on behalf of themselves and their families.

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