Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Dr. Keith Rowley has brushed aside statements made by a prominent trade unionist which he said were intended to bring race into the wage and salary dispute involving public servants.
Last Friday, thousands of people took to the streets in Trinidad protesting against the government’s offer of a four percent salary increase as an “insult” and vowing to step up their actions in the coming days.
The workers grouped under the umbrella Joint Trade Union Movement (JTUM) said they were disrespected by the government’s four percent offer as articulated by the chief personnel officer (CPO) as the final offer.
The unions, including the PSA, the Trinidad and Tobago Fire Service Association, said that the CPO, Dr. Daryl Dindial had during the latest round of negotiations earlier this month offered a salary increase of four percent, representing a zero, zero and two percent and a zero, zero and two percent for the period of 2014 and 2019.
Last month, Prime Minister Rowley told a news conference that it would cost the government an estimated TT$2.5 billion (One TT dollar=US$0.16 cents) in back pay alone to cover the four percent wage increase.
The unions had originally rejected an initial two percent offer over an eight-year period – 2014-2021.
Addressing the workers, the general secretary of the National Trade Union Centre (NATUC), Michael Annisette, “Black (Afro-Trinidadians) people we strong. The (ruling) People’s National Movement (PNM) will pay the price. We not taking four percent. We go back to the ancestors…to Africa…for spiritual guidance.”
Annisette accused Prime Minister Rowley of being disrespectful and not caring about women and children.
“This protest is not just about not taking four percent,” he said.
But in a statement posted on his Facebook page, Prime Minister Rowley said “the African ancestors to whom you appeal, are also my ancestors and there is no four percent offered to Black and African people.
“That offer applies to all the public officers for whom the CPO is their employer, of all races, classes and creeds,” Rowley said, telling Annisette “I am available for a public discussion on caring and respect for women. Would you be interested?
But Annisette told local media that he was not prepared to “step down to the level of the prime minister.”
In his Facebook page, Prime Minister Rowley reminded the trade unionist that “I am a public official who, unlike you, had to swear an oath of office, to do my job “without fear or favor, malice or ill will”!
“This means that a commitment was extracted from me, under the Constitution, to always put the national interest first and not to be unduly influenced by sectoral interest, whatever that might be,” Rowley wrote.