A meeting between Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves and trade union leaders failed to materialise on Friday after the executives of three of the trade unions refused to surrender their cell phones to the security detail at the building.
“There was no meeting simply because when we arrived at the Prime Minister’s office we were told by the security officer that if we don’t leave our cell phones, there would be any meeting,” Wendy Bynoe, the President of the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers’ Union (SVGTU) told the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC) outside the Financial Complex, where the prime minister’s office is located.
Prime Minister Gonsalves was unavailable for an immediate comment. His office said he was in a meeting.
Gonsalves had on Monday invited the Public Service Union (PSU), the SVGTU and the Police Welfare Association (PWA) to the meeting to discuss labour matters ahead of the 2019 budget presentation by Finance Minister, Camillo Gonsalves, on January 29.
The unions were invited to the meeting amidst plans by the SVGTU and the PSU to stage a picket outside Parliament during the budget presentation
Bynoe told CMC that she found the decision to surrender their cell phones to have been a new requirement as this had never been the case in the past when meetings were held with Prime Minister Gonsalves.
Bynoe said the trade unionists inquired as to the reason for surrendering their phones but got no response.
She said that the union representatives will “regroup, strategise for the next day” but emphasised that “the picket is on for the 29th of January, 3:30 p.m. in front the house of Parliament”
Bynoe said that the protest action will be used to highlight pension reform, adding, “we need answers on that.”
The unions will also seek answers to its salary increase proposal, as well as promotion, and appointments in the teaching service.
PSU President, Elroy Boucher, said it was a “shock” that the trade unionists were asked to leave their phones with the prime minister’s security.
“I have never experienced that before and it was difficult to comply with it. We come to the meeting, we have other engagements; we expect to be called. In fact, I have my daughter in class so I really couldn’t comply with that. I really didn’t understand that.”
He too said pension reform and salaries were important to his union and that the union’s executive was hoping to hear from the government on the pension reform and any other developments in that area. He has since suggested that the government put a negotiating team in place.
“That is what is done normally. I think that is how he really should behave in that regard. Get a negotiating team to meet with the union, negotiating salaries and have a discussion on pension issues.”
Chair of the PWA, Brenton Smith, said he was also “shocked” when that the security told the union representatives to leave their cell phone sbehind.
“So I indicated that I didn’t see the security breach … so I would not be going to the meeting unless my phone is with me,” he said, adding that the security officer informed him that the prime minister had said that if the phones were not left with the security the meeting would not at the talks issues related to the suspension of police officers who are yet to be reinstated even after winning their various matters in Court.
“I was really hoping that we would have been able to discuss that.There are some rural constables who were sent home. Some are still on the breadline. We were hoping to raise those issues because it’s very critical to some of the members. There is a level of instability with regards to people who are not sure what is going to happen to them,” Smith said, adding however that the main issues were pension and salaries.
“And our members were looking forward to those two because those are critical in terms of person’s livelihoods. So we were really looking forward to those.”
Smith said he does not think it is his duty to seek clarification from the prime minister regarding why they had to leave their phone with security and that the invitation letter did not indicate that they had to do so.
“In fact, I want to indicate this: the note in the waiting area of the prime minister said that all phones should be placed on silent or switched off. It never said that you can’t take it into the meeting at all. So I am really surprised at that.”