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I had to bite the bullet
The Public Service Association (PSA) said its membership’s “dwindling support” and a suggestion to avoid court led to the acceptance of the five per cent offer. Union president Watson Duke said the PSA also had to weigh the likelihood of its membership enduring a lengthy court (special tribunal) action with no certainty of a better wage offer. He said the PSA had its “hands in the lion’s mouth” and he had no choice but to “bite the bullet.” Duke added: “We watched the crowds dwindle and we got feedback from the corridors of the public service that we should take the five per cent and do not go to court. “Had we gone to court we would not have gotten a dollar more to deal with rent.” Duke defended his position at a media conference yesterday at the PSA’s Abercromby Street office, Port-of-Spain. He said he was forced to “bite the bullet” when he accepted the offer on April 8.
Duke settled with the Government’s Chief Personnel Officer (CPO) Stephanie Lewis and was criticised by members and other unions. He said the Government’s intervention became the only other option if the union was to ensure public servants got “something more” from the deal. “In the interest of the nation and those persons that we represent we thought it best to seek the Government’s intervention, insofar as improving the five per cent offer and the lump sum of $2,000,” Duke said. He lauded the People’s Partnership in that regard for having met the majority of the PSA’s demands, despite the nation’s $7 billion deficit and the global financial climate.
He added: “What we could not get in cash, we sought in kind and I do not believe there was any selling out in that,” he said. “We asked for housing, health benefits, increase for our travelling officers and stipend allowances and we got that. “Every single thing we asked the Government for, we got it, save and except the five per cent. That is negotiation.” Duke said Housing Minister Dr Roodal Moonilal “communicated” to him that “needy” public servants who were “members of the PSA” would receive keys to “some 30 Housing Development Corporation (HDC) houses” on May 23.
Another batch would be given out next six months, he said. He said the back pay owed to public servants ranged “from $12,000 to 14,000” and that job evaluations (bargained for in the agreement), carded to begin in July, may see an additional adjustment of salaries for PSA members well beyond the five per cent. Duke accused his other trade union defectors, who disagreed with his settlement, as having “betrayed” the PSA. He said they were attempting to use the PSA’s collective agreement as a “scapegoat” for their own inefficiency to bargain effectively as leaders.
“They (other trade unions) are using us as a bargaining tool and I am sure that when they sign for five per cent they will say it is because of the PSA. “They have no ideas of their own and they lack strong leadership,” he said. Asked to respond to a petition from his membership calling for his removal, Duke said while there always had been discontent for leaders, he did not come into office “by chance” and so his removal would be met with great opposition on his part. “I am not here by chance but I am here by divine appointment and I guarantee anybody who comes against me will be destroyed because no weapon formed against me shall prosper,” he warned.
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