Teachers, Civil Servants called to second meeting in working hours

POSTED: 01/28/11 12:22 PM

St. Maarten – All members of the Windward Islands Teachers Union (WITU), the Windward Island Civil Servants Union/Private Sector Union (WICSU/PSU) and the ABVO are being called to an information meeting that begins at 7:30 a.m. today. The meeting will be held at the John Larmonie Center.
This will be the second day in a row the three unions are having a meeting in working hours. The first was Thursday when they rejected the written proposal by the Finance Minister Hiro Shigemoto to sit with them to discuss whether the remaining 3.3 percent of a 5.3 percent cost of living adjustment can be paid out this year. The majority of parliament approved the Minister’s plan to split the payments over two years on December 23, when the budget was approved on partisan support. The payment this year is two percent.
The roughly 260 teachers and civil servants who attended Thursday’s meeting firmly rejected the Minister’s position and said they wanted the July 2010 decision of the Executive Council, which was laid out in Publication Sheet no. 55 of 2010, granting them the 5.3 percent to be upheld. Their position was formulated into a draft resolution that includes a deadline for answering that will be put to all who attend today’s meeting.
“This is an island crisis and we call on all our members to turn up for today’s meeting. I will also be informing the school boards so they can inform parents that they will have to seek alternative care for their children,” WITU President Claire Elshot said.

The turnout for the meeting was small and schools mostly remained open on Thursday. Government departments also remained open for regular business and civil servants were at their posts. Elshot said that was because some department heads used draconian threats like immediate dismissal to keep staffers from attending the meeting. She called for that to stop and said she’d document every one of those cases and report them to the International Labor Organization. Denying someone the right of association is against ILO conventions and also is a violation of Article 12 of the Constitution. The right may be restricted, via National Ordinance, in order to ensure public order.

Elshot has also defended the timing of the meetings saying the advisory body for civil servants (GoA) only received the decision of the Council of Ministers on splitting the cost of living payment recently and that is why they are now bringing it to their members’ attention. The measure was approved by the Council of Ministers on December 2 and has been public knowledge since December as of the package of measures to balance the 2011 budget.
“This matter was presented in the GoA on January 14, 2011. Up until late last year nobody even rumored anything about this. The only rumor was the tax free, but now that we understand this decision about the two percent we are opposing it,” Elshot said.
ABVO’s advisor in St. Maarten Sjaoel Richardson said the WICSU/PSU and the ABVO had learnt of the decision in December and requested a meeting to discuss the matter but they never got a reply from Minister Shigemoto.

The teachers and civil servants are adamant they be paid their 3.3 percent at the end of February and have said the government has to “find it” and “cut their salaries” in order to make the payout.
“We believe that there are a lot of measures that can be done, but we question if they (government) want to do them,” the general secretary of the WICSU/PSU Juliette Green Blijden said.

No other choice
Shigemoto informed his colleague ministers Thursday about the content of his meeting with the unions the previous day. Afterwards he told the Government Information Service he’s pleaded with the unions to be patient with the government.
Shigemoto said, “Our country is very fortunate when we look at developments around the world where public sector workers are being laid off, benefits are being cut out, and salaries are being reduced. Based on our own circumstances of achieving country status and having to set up a country government structure from scratch, based on having to present a balanced budget, I believe we have done well, and our teachers can rest assured that they will get what is due to them, but we are just asking for understanding and some leeway in the interests and welfare of the people of the island.”
The Minister said further that he’d informed the unions of the debt of between 80 to 130 million guilders the UP/DP government met when they came to power and that is why they decided amongst other things to split the cost of living adjustment into two payouts.
“The reason for this split is that there was more budgetary room in 2012 to allow for a higher percentage,” the Minister said on Thursday.

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