With public servants resorting to protest action to force the Government to honour its obligations to them – including long outstanding back-pay and salary increases – Prime Minister Gaston Browne is threatening them with retrenchment.
On Monday, May 1, during the annual Labour Day celebrations, Browne warned of possible layoffs in the public sector if trade unions continue to demand what he considers “unrealistic” higher wages for workers.
“If you ask or make demands that are unreasonable, that’s beyond the means of the Government, it will be self-defeating, because you will force the government to retrench,” the prime minister announced.
“On the other hand, it could be inflationary, in that if prices increase too soon, and by too large an amount, it could increase prices; and that, again, will be self-defeating,” he said.
At the same time, he sought to assure civil servants that his administration is committed to doing better than the 5 percent increase they received in 2018.
Reportedly, the Government is about to conclude negotiations with the public-sector unions. And Browne says he is “absolutely sure that … when we would have resolved the issues… we would be able to maintain the positive parity for workers.”
He claims that the Government is doing all it can in light of a very difficult period and circumstances brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. And it could have told public-sector workers that it did not have the capacity to give an increase – like other countries that have taken that position.
Instead, he is asking workers to be reasonable and to engage his administration constructively, since it has not refused to increase wages and salaries. Rather, he says, the issue is by how much.
Speaking at the V.C. Bird monument, Browne told his Antigua Labour Party supporters that his administration is cognizant of its many challenges. However, he said, it will not be daunted by these challenges, and will remain focused on transforming Antigua and Barbuda into an economic powerhouse.
He added that, in order to achieve this goal, workers must gird their loins and join the battle, as there is no room for loafers, and all must contribute.
Browne’s threats to retrench have not gone down well with many workers.
Today, May 3, several civil servants tell REAL News they are insulted by the prime minister’s “blackmail,” especially in light of the “ridiculous size” of the delegation that will be attending the coronation ceremonies of King Charles III and Queen Camilla, later this week.
“The delegation is what needs retrenching,” one furious woman tells our Newsroom, “because the money that Government is spending on that joyride rightly belongs to us, the civil servants, the pensioners, the hospital, and even LIAT workers,” she declares.