Has anyone stopped and taken a look at our revenues lately? A large portion of our annual operating budget is funded with revenues from the “Foreign Land Holders Act”; in short, revenue from land sales and taxes by non-Vincentian property owners.
As indicated earlier this year by the Prime Minster, this income stream is lower than it has been in previous years. This is one of the reasons why I previously advocated that we should not use this income to fund daily operations. It is too sensitive to the global economic conditions and indeed not recession-proof. One way to use these funds to benefit our nation is to use them to stabilize our NIS/Pension Fund. To do so effectively, we should begin to phase out the use of this revenue stream from operations and deposit these funds into the pension fund. I am suggesting this for the short term because I am confident when a study of the pension funds is complete, it will reveal a significant underfunding of our pension liability. After the pension fund is made whole, these funds should then be limited to capital projects or debt services on capital projects.
My other concern is that, as we keep making this special emergency payout to the selected group, we are creating an unsustainable dependence on the government. In addition, while we are putting money into the economy, we are not increasing productivity or creating employment. For example, since these payments are not wages, they are not contributing to NIS, another institution on an unsustainable track.
As if the financial uncertainty is not enough, we now have these haphazard and disjointed salary negotiations between the government and the various unions. Where do I start? One Union President called the outcome of the talks fair; the Finance Minister called it generous. Ok, Mr. President, ask for a lot, expect nothing, get a little and consider it a win.
Oh, wait, “just kidding since this was so easy,” let me ask for more; we need a $500 bonus for all the lower-paid workers. Are you kidding me? Do you understand how shortsighted a bonus payout is to your lower-paid employee? What we need is a base-building pay increase for these folks. With that approach to negotiations, it is easy to understand your initial response. Let me point out the obvious: your workers’ salaries and benefits are not keeping up with inflation, and today people working for the government are being paid effectively less than they were three years ago. With the cost of living rising well above the agreed annual pay increases, one can only ask who the winner is, Mr. Robintson. But based on your opening offer and lack of sophistication going into the negotiation, I am not surprised with your initial reaction and subsequent ask.
Mr. Finance Minister, the workers in SVG do not need your generosity. What the workers need is adequate competition and mutual respect for work performance, in other words, a living wage and pay-for-value.
Another thing, could we stop calling our government employees “Public Servants”? This Colonial Legacy Label is inappropriate and demeaning.
By the way, what is the government compensation policy? It would be helpful to know what to expect. I heard you loud and clear when you said we need to review the minimum wage paid to all workers in SVG, and I agree. My concern is that this should have been addressed before or in conjunction with your recent wage package for the represented groups. Mr. Minister, you see, in my world, by announcing additional wage adjustments to the minimum wage now, you will be creating wage compression. This ripple effect would have a different financial cost.
Back to the agreement, let me say I am not a fan of “across the board” pay raises for everyone. We already have a step program that facilitates those lifers; work/live long enough, and you will get to the top of the pay range. There is no insensitivity in such a system to improve productivity/performance. With this piecemeal approach to negotiations, when can we expect to sign this agreement? Will we ever finish, or are you going to continue the “proud” tradition of never signing a contract, just in case?
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