Patricia Pantophlet On The Cola Drama

I will like to preempt my views and opinion on the topic at hand by commending the Chamber of Labor Unions (WICLU) in particular the Union Bosses Claire Elshot and Theophilus Thompson for their consistency in informing, education and bringing forward issues directly related to the union’s membership and the working class in general. It is my hope that the other unions falling under the umbrella of the WICLU will join in this very important format to do the same. 

One of the objectives of a workers organization is to educate, inform, bring awareness to the direct membership and workers/consumers in general by all means necessary and I believe this is the right forum. One suggestion I want to offer to the WICLU is in that same setting remind and re-educate its membership that their rights and obligations are equally important, and that they are duty bound to live up to those obligations as well as having their human and workers rights respected at all times.

The drama of the COLA, as I choose to term it, continues. In January 2010 the unions: WICSU/PSU; WITU and the NAPB were forced along with their members to take action in order to have Government pay overdue COLA payment over the years 2008 and 2009 after Government consciously failed to place that payment on the Budget, This did not go without the usual intimidation and threats of members by some Department Heads and Secretary Generals along with the then Minister of Education. Fortunately in particular among the teachers they were not intimidated and continued to be loyal to the call of the union’s leadership Three years down the road here we go again. The COLA over the years 2011 and 2012 overdue not budgeted for and to add salt to injury the Prime Minister announces that 50% of what is owed will be paid out in a lump sum to civil servants, police and prison officers, and teachers along with other Government workers. The Prime Minister also announced(on behalf of Government, I assume) that she is not prepared to have any more discussion with respect to the application of the COLA in terms of incorporation into the salaries because it’s no longer sustainable. I have one basic serious challenge with those statements: they are all UNILATERAL! The Prime Minister and other Ministers by now should be sufficiently matured, experienced and knowledgeable to respect and recognize the fact that there is a legally instituted organization called the GOA where all matters concerning public sector worker, teachers and Government workers must be discussed and views of the unions represented on the GOA is considered.

In addition based on ILO Conventions it is no longer acceptable that Government takes any unilateral decisions without consulting and agreeing with union or unions on behalf of its membership, in this case public sector workers. First Vice President of WICLU mentioned that one of the prevalent discussions at the ILO Convention that she recently returned from was on collective bargaining within the public sector. I agree that this is a very important step forward for public sector workers and their unions. As it is presently the GOA is an advisory body and we all know the reality of advisory bodies where Government is not obligated to follow that advice. Collective bargaining is nothing new within the region, among which Trinidad, Jamaica, Barbados, Grenada and St. Lucia.. Having collective bargaining in place would avoid for instance the COLA drama that we are and have been experiencing

My suggestions to Government: stop the COLA drama now. Sit at the bargaining table with the unions and avoid the inevitable.

Patricia Pantophlet