The unions are reloading for another round of talks with the Prime Minister. We say talks because the Prime Minister has said there's nothing to negotiate; his position is simple: if the unions can help government achieve a revenue surplus then they can get a raise out of that.
But the unions have taken a different stance, they says there's plenty of room to negotiate to ensure that their membership has at least minimum pay raise that they can be assured of. That's what's contained in a set of counter proposals that have been sent back to government. Except government doesn't want to hear it; the PM has reportedly balked at those counter proposals, but still agreed to meet.
And that's why the unions have been making the talk show rounds this week. We caught up with them after an appearance on KREM W-U-B this morning where they outlined their position.
Luke Palacio - President, BNTU
"Basically the Prime Minister has indicated to us - and we need to be very clear here, the Prime Minister, we know is an attorney. The way he writes, it is subject to interpretation, but basically he has said to us that he will not - he's not going to accept the proposal that we have for the 5% to be paid for this financial year that we are requesting in our account of proposal."
"Can you give an explanation as to why?"
"Well basically what the Prime Minister has said in his letter is that we had agreed to several things in the presentation that he had made. Our records show that there was at no point any indication was made to the Prime Minister that we agreed to anything in his proposals. What we said was; yes we accept that you're preparing - you have presented a proposal to us, but we are here to ask questions. We're here to get answers to questions; we're here to raise certain issues, but we cannot accept any proposal unless we take in back our membership."
"Didn't you all have a joint council of management, meaning saying that you endorse the proposals unanimously?"
Marvin Blades - President, PSU
"What was said was that we - they endorsed the proposals to take it to membership."
"We have accepted to attend the meeting on April the 5th, on the condition that the counter proposal will form a part of the agenda."
"So if at this meeting April 5, the Prime Minister maintains his position, which I understand to be that no - what counter proposal, there was no proposal, there was an agreement that if we get a revenue bump you can have a percentage of that."
"There was no agreement Jules. We want to make that absolutely clear; that is the Prime Minister proposal. There was no agreement; we never agreed to that."
"What if the argument maintains we simply can't afford a salary adjustment at least just yet?"
"Well that - if the Government maintains that and they can't afford a salary adjustment now, that's one of the reasons why we are in a negotiation because we can prove why. We can prove - show you where you can afford the salary adjustment."
"You cannot come and say to us, we are negotiating in good faith, but this is what I'm giving you and that is what it is. We're not here to tolerate that; we're not here to take that."
"So if that is the position of the Prime Minister, because I understand it to be that there's no room for a counter proposal, it is what it is, what then?"
"We have our plan of action."
George Myvette - Past President, APSSM
"If we were to take the temperature of our people on the union side, we are basically at fever pitch; our people are ready to go to the next level."
And while that's on the horizon in April, the union leadership also responded to a letter from the chamber of Commerce to the Prime Minister.
It laments excessive public spending and points specifically to the wage bill, which stands at "a projected $483.2 million or 56% of total expenditure" for the coming financial year. While not accepting that figure, the unions say they differ greatly:
"The business community has basically been signed that public expenditure is a bad thing essentially and we're basically saying that you need service, the government is there to provide service to keep the country running."
"Half a billion dollars on emoluments, just from the sound of it for just a small country, that seems obscene."
"Well what you have to realize is, if you examine the budget, it basically says that the way - if you examine the current budget it basically says that the wage is three hundred and I believe 94 million dollars, but if we take it that 500 million dollars from your characterization is obscene, from the Chambers perspective, I would say that that's really an ideological issue from me. I believe that this country has so many needs. If the challenges that are coming at you are poverty, unemployment, and crime, those things have a financial cost. If indeed the Chamber is saying that they do not share the view that human resources viz-a-viz the public service is important in that equation, I don't agree with them."
And while we had the union leadership, we pressed to ask about the case at BWSL where the General Secretary and Vice President of that utility's union were sent home in February - and no statement has been forthcoming from their own union or the NTUCB - which is the umbrella for all unions.
President Dylan Reneau didn't want to talk about it when we asked:
"That meeting over 2 weekends ago, any update as to how as to how the union will proceed?"
Dylan Reneau - President, NTUCB
"I would not want to comment on that issue."
"But sir, how can they fire a General Secretary and Vice President and the NTUCB not say anything?"
"I will not comment on that issue sir, thank you."
"So you all will not do anything, you all will not have the backs of these guys?"
"We've been - if you said that we've had a meeting, we've been having meetings. I cannot comment on it. It also has issues with the - it has legal implications because it's going to court, so I cannot comment on it, thank you."
The BNTU met with the terminated BWSL employees 10 days ago.