Teachers, civil servants meet during working hours today

POSTED: 01/27/11 2:42 PM

St. Maarten – Teachers and civil servants will have a meeting during working hours beginning at 7:30 a.m. today at the Wifol building. They will be discussing a counterproposal to a position taken by Finance Minister Hiro Shigemoto. The Minister has said he’s willing to evaluate whether a 3.3 percent cost of living adjustment can be paid out in the latter part of the year, depending on income derived from the two percent increase in Turnover Tax. He’s also told their unions he can’t reverse the decision to split the 5.3 percent over two years
President of Windward Teachers Union (WITU) Claire Elshot communicated the standpoint in an address to teachers and civil servants in front of the Government Administration Building on Tuesday after a meeting between WITU, the Windward Islands Civil Servants Union/Private Sector Union (WICSU/PSU), ABVO and Finance Minister Hiro Shigemoto. The latter told the unions that teachers will receive their promised two percent in their January pay packets, which go out on Friday. He also said he can’t “physically change” the decision to split the payment now because parliament has approved the measure as part of their approval of the budget and the only option he sees available is for the meeting in six months to evaluate whether there’s enough money from the increase in the Turnover Tax (TOT) to pay out the remaining 3.3 percent in 2010 instead of in 2011. Teachers rejected that proposal by shouting, “No, no, no”, “Absolutely not” and “Let us stay home for six months then.”
Members of Parliament from both the National Alliance and the United People’s (UP) Party who were standing at the government building were also quick to point out that they never approved splitting the cost of living adjustment into two payments.
“No, no, no. Not Louie Laveist or the National Alliance faction. We did not vote for the budget. You can’t put that one on us. That was approved by the Democratic Party and the United People’s Party,” Laveist said.
The UP Party faction leader Romain Laville has also denied approving the measure, but that is incorrect as it forms part of the 2011 budget that was passed using partisan support from the six members of the UP faction, the two members of the D.P faction and Independent Member of Parliament Patrick Illidge on December 23, 2010.
Having disagreed with the proposal the teachers and civil servants called for a meeting on Thursday morning to discuss a counter proposal. Elshot attempted to get them to agree on a meeting on Friday so that the Minister would be able to put his position in writing but that was rejected.
“He can make overtime and put it in writing and send it us,” one person said.
Another shouted, “He can BB it.”
“Being a Minister is a 24 hour position and he is working for us, so if he has to work overtime to send us the proposal then so be it,” another person shouted.

Evaluation/Salary Scales
The issue of the evaluation system and its effect on salary scales is also still dangling. Unions accept that the minister has to gather information to ensure that staffers can be evaluated and placed in the correct scale, but they want a concrete date for when this will be finalised. Teachers are already receiving regular adjustments, but civil servants are not and the unions want them to get what the teachers receive.

Progress
Shigemoto and the unions have come to an understanding about the staffing at the Department of Wages and Salaries. He’s assured them that while things have been a bit hectic and there were delays this month and in December, teachers and civil servants should begin getting their salaries on time from now on. The smooth operation is because the department will soon have its full complement of six staffers. If the issues continue the Minister has pledged to look at the department’s organizational chart.
The Minister also used the meeting to encourage, especially civil servants, to clear their overtime with their Secretary Generals. If they don’t it will not be honored and they won’t receive payments for it.
The Minister also reiterated in the meeting that teachers and civil servants will get their six percent vacation allowance in the latter part of June. That announcement was greeted warmly by the union delegation.

Solidarity
The two unions also reiterated their support for the staffers at Pelican Resort and Pelican Marina Residences, who have been barred from entering the property where they used to work. Some of the Pelican staffers had also joined in standing in front of the government building.
“Solidarity will be forever,” Elshot said on the steps of the government building.

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