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Government & Public Sector Unions to Conclude Negotiations

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Contact: Rose Marie Harris

March 16, 1999 - Government and Public Sector Unions are close to a settlement in wage negotiations following a strategic intervention by Prime Minister, Dr. Hon. Kenny Anthony.

Discussions have been ongoing for some time between the government’s negotiating team and that of the public sector unions, but they had been unable to arrive at an agreement for the two-triennium periods being negotiated (1996-98 and 1998-2000).

Prime Minister Anthony met the representatives of six unions Thursday, after which he said he had declined making comments publicly about the talks because he wanted "a culture of negotiations" to develop between the two sides and did not want to prejudice the negotiations. He said he made his "strategic intervention" while preparing for presentations of this year’s budget because he "didn’t want the negotiations to drag on indefinitely".

The Civil Service Association, the Teachers Union, the Police Welfare Association, the Medical and Dental Association, the Nurses Association and the Fire Service Association were all represented. The Government side included the Prime Minister, Communications and Works Minister Senator Calixte George, Tourism and Financial Services Minister Phillip J. Pierre, Commerce Minister Hon. Walter Francois and members of the government’s negotiating team.

During the meeting, Dr. Anthony, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance, Dr. Bernard La Corbiniere and Head of Government’s Negotiating Team Mr. John Joseph sought to allay fears and clarify uncertainties or misunderstanding arising out of earlier rounds of negotiations between the two teams. The Union representatives asked many questions about projects for the economy which were answered by the government’s team in a spirit of transparency and good faith.

After almost four hours of free and frank discussion, the government side made an offer to which the Unions made an amended response containing an additional proposal. The Government’s offer took into consideration the state of the economy and the fact that another round of negotiations for the triennium 2001-04 were due to begin next year.

The Unions agreed to take the final proposal back to their members and the teams would again meet to wrap-up the negotiations in a fortnight.

Following the talks, Prime Minister Anthony said he would as of next year invite the unions to be part of the pre-budget agency discussions, so that they could be aware of all the facts and figures the economic planners had to contend with.

He said he was glad the representatives of the six unions did not consider that negotiations were at the stage of "an impasse" and instructed Finance Ministry officials and officers of the Public Service Ministry to cooperate with the Union negotiators by making information available to them about the economy and their growth projections.

Dr. Anthony said his government continues to refuse to go the way of reducing the size of the public service as is recommended by the international financial agencies., He also said government would continue to be open and transparent in its relations with the public service.

The Unions turned down an offer by the Prime Minister to go to arbitration if there was no agreement, opting instead to return to their members with a view to concluding the negotiations within a fortnight.

In the meantime, the Prime Minister gave a directive to the government’s negotiating team to settle within one week, all other outstanding non-wage issues with the unions, including increments, traveling allowances and conditions of service. The final round of negotiations begins in two weeks.

 

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