Mary Isaac has spoken, presumably with the voice of the Civil Service Association to which presidency she was recently elected: “If he takes the five percent, we will be left no other choice but to shut the country down!”
Isaac’s promise arrives amidst reliable if unofficial talk making the rounds, that the government intends as of next month to slash public sector salaries.
On Thursday Isaac admitted she too had heard the bad news. The unconfirmed word is that the minister of finance, who is also the country’s prime minister, was pressing forward with an earlier expressed intention to readjust public services wages.
“All along we’ve been anticipating this move by the government,” Isaac said during an exclusive STAR interview. “All of this talk about consultations and requests for proposals from the unions and civil society has been nothing short of a sham. The government has never shown any interest in counter proposals or ideas aimed at reducing the fiscal deficit. Their only interest has been in cutting public sector salaries, regardless of the rising cost of living.”
Back in January 2013 Prime Minister Kenny Anthony had said: “Whereas other Caribbean states might have a fiscal deficit of seven to eight percent of GDP we are climbing up to 10 per cent. That’s a warning sign, so we have really got to ensure we bring it under some degree of control and resolve those differences.”
A four percent public sector wage increase in 2013 obviously had failed to solve the “differences.”
The country is facing an EC$76 million fiscal deficit, which the government said in May had to be reduced if the country was to escape the IMF.
Even before a related discussion with the workers’ unions, the reduction was reflected in the prime minister’s latest budget, a situation that has generated much dissent between government and the unions.
The matter has since then been presented to the various unions and associations, all of which have flatly rejected government’s five percent cut and a three-year wage freeze proposal.
“We are not in the business of negotiating deficits with governments,” Isaac has said. “Our job is to sit and discuss proposals for better working conditions, better wages and benefits for our members.”
Additionally: “The prime minister has all of his consultants and technocrats, as well as some of the best qualified civil servants within his ministry with whom he can sit and discuss possible solutions to the fiscal deficit. I am not sure he has done even that. As far as I can tell, he remains adamant that the only way out of our fiscal problems is to cut the salaries of public servants.”
Isaac is convinced that cutting public sector wages will further shrink the economy. “This will put public workers in greater trouble, some whose salaries are tied to loans and so on. It will also affect businesses, since there will be less spending power. Already several businesses have shut down or drastically reduced their staff.”
The CSA president suspects there are moves afoot to dump the public service as it presently exists. The “new design”, she says, will allow the government to bring in consultants as they see fit and by-pass the public service.
Isaac says: “Contrary to the belief in some quarters,” she is not averse to discussions with the prime minister, but not about this fiscal period.
“Before there can be any talk about cuts for this year,the prime minister should consult with us as to what can be implemented in the next budget cycle. He also needs to convince us that the only way out of going to the IMF is by cutting wages. So far he has not even attempted to do so.”