Senate Minority Leader Shawn Nicholas is pleading with the Gaston Browne Administration to pay more attention to public-sector workers, who continue to complain about a plethora of issues impacting them, including poor working conditions.
In his 2023 budget presentation, “Reset, Recover, Revitalize,” Finance Minister Gaston Browne said the increase in the wages and salaries bill – from $394 million in 2021 to $421 million in 2022 – was due to salary upgrades for certain categories of workers, including teachers, and the contribution to public servants’ back pay.
However, debating the Appropriations Bill, 2023 on Monday, March 20, Senator Nicholas said that teachers are still waiting on their promised upgrades.
In support of her claim, she referred to a March 7 letter from the Antigua and Barbuda Union of Teachers (A&BUT) to the authorities. While some teachers had received their upgrade letters, the letter says, the related pay increase was not reflected in their February 2023 salaries.
It also points out that other teachers are awaiting both their upgrades and the difference in their salaries.
Accordingly, Nicholas says the Government needs to do much better – not only for teachers, but for every person employed within the public sector.
The Administration cannot continue to show scant regard for workers and still expect them to perform at their optimum, she adds. According to her, it is treatment like this that demoralizes employees and impacts production and output.
Senator Nicholas notes that salary negotiations are yet to be completed for the period 2018 to 2020 in spite of proposals and counter-proposals having been put forward. However, the respective unions are reportedly awaiting a response from the Government.
Given the 9.2 percent rate of inflation recorded at the end of 2022, the UPP senator points out that public-sector workers are struggling on their current meager wages and salaries.
She notes that the last increase they received was 5 percent, in 2018, with some employees receiving only an additional $100 on their pay. And with the current high inflation rate, she says, the Government could not expect that increase to have the same effect today as it did five years ago.
According to Nicholas, the 4 percent increase now being proposed amounts to an insult, and something better should – and can – be done for public- sector workers.
Nicholas commends public-sector workers for being among the most intelligent persons in the society, and she complains they are not being properly compensated for their contributions to nation-building.