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That’s an absurd idea, Mr Duke
Like all trade-union leaders, the president of the Public Services Association, Watson Duke, is free to build his case to demand higher salary levels from the employer. In order to do so, however, Mr Duke needs to put forward more convincing and workable schemes than simply advocating to the Government that it should lay higher taxes on the average taxpayer to facilitate salary increases for his membership.
Nor does he advance his cause by absurdly and illogically suggesting that property-owning, by citizens of any social class, is a “vice” and therefore additional taxes should be placed on such people as a penalty for this perceived “vice.” Further, in making this argument, Mr Duke seems to be limiting his own members to the category of being rentpayers. He seems to have forgotten that many public servants are themselves property owners who would have to pay higher property taxes if the Government were to take his advice and impose higher burdens of taxes.
There is also the reality that the PSA head has to face that higher property taxes will have a far greater impact on those at the lower end of the income scale. He is therefore effectively advocating punishing tax burdens on workers and retirees less able to cope with tax increases.
He also puts himself and his organisation in a bind in the context of the PSA now facilitating the construction of townhouses for ownership by public servants. Mr Duke’s preposterous notion that property owners should be taxed specifically to facilitate hefty salary increases for public servants is, to say the least, offensive and grossly unfair.
What will taxpayers receive in return: more efficient or courteous service? On what grounds can public servants argue that they deserve not merely increases, but hefty ones? Mr Duke says the lowest-paid public servant should take home $7,000 a month.
He made it clear that the PSA will not be accepting either five, six or even nine per cent salary increases in the 2011-2013 round of salary negotiations that will take place over the next several months. It can therefore be expected that the economy is heading into another period of cantankerous and very disruptive industrial- relations conflict. As has been demonstrated by the strike at the cement company, there are no winners in long-drawn-out imbroglios.
The PSA president says that in his union’s “revisiting the facts of the economy over the last few months we are now convinced to say that the property tax should be reinstated.” In revisiting the facts, did Mr Duke come across the data and the statements made more than once by the Governor of the Central Bank on the rising levels of costs in the economy and the loss of competitiveness of the products and services of the Trinidad and Tobago economy?
In this respect, complaints by citizens and others having to utilise public services for a variety of needs have become established as part of the reality of T&T. Instead of seeking to impose further burdens on the taxpayer, the PSA president should be conveying this reality to his members to let them understand that the input of the public service to the production for local consumption and export must be competitive if the economy is to survive in the very difficult international conditions of the present.
As a major trade-union leader, Mr Duke must also get out of the unthinking mould of simply advocating large salary increases, regardless of the consequences. He should note—and convey to his membership—that high and unsustainable salary increases will ultimately mean increasing taxation—which will not end at the level of property taxes alone.
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