Employees of the Social Security Board (SSB) have voted to execute a countrywide strike on Monday March 7th. SSB’s staff says management continues to derail their negotiations; therefore, the Christian Workers’ Union (CWU) gave the company and the Labour Department formal notice on Tuesday, February 15 of the SSB employees’ intention to strike.
The ultimatum came a day after 60% of the unionized employees— a figure that SSB’s Chief Executive Officer, Merlene Bailey- Martinez disputes, staged a sick-out last week. Bailey-Martinez estimates that the number was closer to 41 percent of SSB employees countrywide. The men and women of SSB say they want more pay and better benefits.
On Tuesday, Reporter spoke with the CWU President Antonio Gonzales, who explained the cause of the tension between the management and the staff. He said the CWU has been negotiating with management since August 2008 for a new collective agreement. But the SSB management has continuously sought to “derail” the negotiations. The “last straw” was a letter from management on January 18. The letter stated: “The Board [Social Security Board] discussed this matter in the last meeting and has concluded that a salary increase...will only be palatable if dealt with in conjunction with a review of benefits to contributors. “The Board has therefore decided that it will act expeditiously to consider in particular an increase to certain categories of pensions.” In essence the board is saying, Gonzalez concludes, that any additional benefits to employees must be dependent, or at least coincide with the benefits given to contributors, especially those contributors who are receiving a minimum pension. Gonzales described the letter as one of the Board’s stalling tactics, a pattern seen over the years. He said the union was opposed to the idea of marrying the two matters. A CWU release apologizes to the public for the inconveniences caused, and stated that it “strongly supports a salary increase for its members. The matter of pensions should be dealt with separately.
The Social Security Board also explained their position in a release. It is the Board’s position that “its first responsibility is the prudent management of SSB funds for the greater benefit of all the insured workers. “When one looks at the current level of insured benefits that the SSB provides to workers in comparison with the employment package provided to the SSB staff, it is clear that any request for salary increases can only be taken in conjunction with a full review of the current level of benefits paid, particularly pension benefits.” CEO Bailey-Martinez said it is SSB’s view that it would be irresponsible to grant its staff, who received a salary increase in 2007, any more benefits without responding in kind to the minimum paid to pensioners whose last increase in benefits was 10 years ago.