On Sunday, May 1, 2022, this country like many others in the region, observed “Labour Day” in recognition of the extremely significant contribution workers make to national development. The Vincentian worker in general, but those in the state sector in particular, have been beneficiaries of a number of worker-centred policies of this ULP administration since coming into office in 2001. It must never be forgotten, that the elections of 2001 that paved the way for this Comrade Ralph-led ULP government, were as a direct result of worker dissent over the general conditions of work that lead to massive protests that brought activities to a halt across this country.
Workers in the state sector had become very dissatisfied with the lack of concern for their many issues raised regarding their conditions of work including salaries and other benefits that would improve their standards of living. Locked in negotiations with the then government, the trade unions were left frustrated and disillusioned with the dismissiveness and arrogance that had become the hallmark of the then NDP government. The level of protest that occurred in 2000 where public workers abandoned their jobs and took to the streets, some in uniform, demanding better treatment by their employer, is unlike anything seen in this country since universal adult suffrage. It is against this backdrop that we can celebrate Labour Day 2022, and reflect on how this ULP administration has improved labour relations in this country through a number of progressive legislative provisions as well as through practical policy initiatives that have improved the lives of the working people. This government has implemented targeted interventions to improve the conditions of work for public officers which have made the public service the first choice of employment for Vincentians seeking work.
Specific benefits to Public Sector Workers
As a small developing country, with the government as the single largest employer, there are constraints in what can be offered to employees in terms of direct financial benefits such as salary increases or allowances. This reality however doesn’t preclude the provision of other benefits to workers that have a less direct effect on government’s expenditure. It does however, require creativity in fashioning initiatives that will positively impact the living standards of workers. While in opposition, the leadership of the ULP met with the leadership of the various trade unions to hear their concerns and proposals in an effort to develop responses to many of those vexing issues that had strained the relationship between them and the government of the day. It was no surprise therefore that once elected, the ULP was able to move swiftly in putting a number of worker-centred initiatives in place that immediately saw the improvement in the working conditions of public officers and ultimately improved living standards.
Over the years, public officers have benefited from financial packages offered by the government including direct salary increases prior to the 2008 global financial crisis and also since that time. The reclassification exercise carried out in the public service also saw increased salaries for public servants as many grades were “bumped” up and with that came increases in salaries. There has been improved regularity and consistency regarding the appointment of graduates in the public sector, and this appointment brings with it in many instances, an increase in salary and of course the yearly increments that come with the position. Public officers also benefitted from the then government’s gradual increasing of the taxable income threshold that was $12,000 per year when the ULP came into office but has been gradually increased to its current level of $20,000 per year giving workers more disposable income. The income tax policy just outlined is also complimented by the reduction of the income tax rate that was at 40% (maximum) in 2001, but again the ULP administration has reduced over the years to its current rate of 30%. Taken together, these initiatives saw public officers making more money, and paying less taxes thus increasing their disposable income, offering them flexibility to do other things and by increasing their spending power.
The ULP is especially proud of our initiative that offered public officers the ability to pursue their dream of home ownership with the provision of 100% mortgages through the then National Commercial Bank. Although not a policy that can be quantified in dollar terms as an expenditure to government, it represents a significant benefit for public workers (and has now been extended to all workers as other lending institutions followed suit) delivered by the worker-friendly ULP administration. Many public servants can recount the embarrassments experienced previously when lending institutions repeatedly rejected their mortgage applications because their salaries were too small, or they weren’t able to acquire the necessary down-payment. Many public servants, single and married spent years living at home with parents and siblings because of the difficulty in acquiring a mortgage to build their dream home or struggled for years, with the help of neighbours to construct their house in phases that enabled them to occupy even before completion. The ULP eliminated this impediment and ushered in a new dispensation in homeownership in this country and many public servants now have their homes, financed through a 100% mortgage facility and serviced by their much increased salaries, putting the increased disposable income to good use.
There is much that this government has done over its tenure to improve the conditions of work in this country through legislation and is leading the way by example in constantly improving the conditions of work for public employees. The labour relations environment in this country is better than it as ever been, even as some in the trade union movement seek to hijack the movement in an attempt at advancing their own agendas, political or otherwise. The government will continue to improve workers’ rights and workers benefits in recognition of the important role they play in our quest to develop a modern, competitive, many-sided, post-colonial economy that is at once local, national, regional and global.
Happy Labour Day 2022 from the Unity Labour Party.