Where we stand‎ > ‎Media Releases‎ > ‎


posted 3 May 2016, 10:19 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 3 May 2016, 10:23 ]
The National Health Workers Union (NHWU) issued the following statement on May 3rd 2016:

Minister of Finance Imbert, in his mid-year budget review stated that "public officers" will get half their retroactive payments by the end of June (another date in the long line of promised dates) and the other half in government bonds at the end of September or in two installments at unspecified dates in 2017.

Once again, instead of workers receiving the income for which they have already worked and which is their personal property, they are treated as if they are begging for something. Now, the term public officers actually refers to those workers who come under the jurisdiction of the public service commission and does not refer to police, prison and fire officers and to employees of the regional health authorities. It is possible that the Minister himself is referring to them all as public officers, but this must be made clear so as to not cause further confusion. We call upon the Minister to clear up the confusion and state clearly what the position is with the payment of the backpay of RHA monthly paid workers.

It is indeed curious that the Minister who has admitted that the government owes billions of dollars to contractors said not a word about meeting that obligation in his mid year review. In fact there is a deafening silence from all quarters, including from the usually voluble spokespersons for the contactors. This suggests that a deal may have already been made with the contractors and that they are satisfied with it. If this is so then this is a clear case of double standards and bias being practised against workers.

Public officers, policemen, fire officers and prison officers have stated clearly that they are not comfortable with the Minister's attempt to railroad them into accepting half their backpay in June and bonds or two tranches of the other half being paid sometime in 2017. The minister has acted illegally in trying to force his proposal down the throats of public sector workers who are represented by recognised majority unions as public officers, police, fire and prison officers are. They will not allow it. RHA monthly paid employees are not represented by a recognised majority union so we may have to swallow whatever the Minister decrees unless we come together as ne
ver before and stop being sidetracked by old talk that is taking us nowhere

The government cannot decree that workers must accept variations in their terms and conditions of work. Salary and wage levels and how they are to be paid including arrears are matters for Collective Bargaining. The Government can't decide how and when backpay is to be paid. The law mandates that these are matters for negotiations with representative unions.

In the 1980's, the NAR government illegally imposed a 10% salary cut and removed Cost of Living Allowance (COLA) to public officers. 
Bernadette Hood-Caesar
Bernadette Hood-Caesar, an enrolled nursing assistant employed at the Port of Spain General Hospital, took the government to court on behalf of the Public Services Association and the Court ruled that the Government acted unconstitutionally. Its unilateral action was declared to have deprived public officers of their property without due process of law. 

Government's illegal action created a debt of over $2 Billion owed to public officers and public sector workers. How and when this debt was to be paid then had to be negotiate
d between the Government and various employers and the public sector associations and unions. The government is quite aware that they are engaging in illegal action. In fact, the present Minister of Labour was the president of the PSA when the court finally disposed of the matter in 1997. Even worse than being illegal, the government action is unethical, immoral and discriminatory. Health workers are subsisting on 2013 salaries and the retroactive payments are an outstanding debt originating in 2011. 2016 is the last year of a new contract period but the employer is paying no attention to that fact, no consideration is given to the further slipping back of health workers when compared to their former colleagues in the public service and the others who have RMU status

Bonds have been a part of the financial system for as long as one can remember. Corporations and government have floated bonds in order to raise revenue. To do this they offer attractive rates of interest in order to attract lenders to invest in this loan instrument. If government wants to raise (borrow) money on the capital markets as they have been doing over the years then it should package an attractive offer, pay health and other public sector workers their debts and educate and encourage them to invest in their bond issue.

The government, without negotiating with public sector unions are trying to force workers to accept bonds as payment of their arrears. They have not even said under what conditions the bonds would be floated, at what interest rate, over what time period etc.

A piece of misinformation that is being peddled to play on workers’ partisan political sympathies is that the precedent of settling arrears of public officers by utilizing bonds was set in the 1990’s. This refers to the transaction of the then Patrick Manning Administration’s efforts in resolving the debt to those workers arising out of the illegal removal of Cost-of Living and the ten per cent cut in salaries under the NAR regime. The entire process and terms and conditions of the bond issue were negotiated with the unions representing public sector employees. This attempt now is a unilateral imposition.

For those workers who are between a rock and a hard place and have sympathies for the ruling party, just remember that the cost of living is skyrocketing every day as cost of fuel goes up, as avaricious merchants gouge out our eyes and as the dollar depreciates day by day against the US dollar; that workers are being retrenched and contract workers are being dispensed with.

Every day that passes (and five years have already passed with health workers’ arrears) your dollar is worth less and less, but then the Prime Minister stated that the debt owed to health workers should be treated as a savings! It is the only savings that loses value as time passes.

The NHWU calls on all employees of the RHAs to stand up and resist this assault on your property. Move past all the dividers, check those who have represented and served the interests of health workers over the last year. Let us put together a simple plan of action and implement it. Grumbling, quarrelling in the corridors, worse yet just sitting by and doing nothing will not help. This is just the beginning as we had warned, worse is yet to come. If we fail this test then heaven help us with the rest.

For further information contact Arlene Maillard # 725 8950; Keish Murrell # 716 8762