THURSDAY, 29 AUGUST 2013
PHILIPSBURG–Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams, Education Minister Patricia Lourens and Finance Minister Martin Hassink are expected to attend today’s GOA meeting with unions representing civil servants, teachers, police and immigration personnel.
The meeting was called by Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams to discuss the Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA), which the unions have been lobbying for, for several months now. The unions had jointly requested an urgent meeting with Wescot-Williams on the matter.
Wescot-Williams, who is also Minister of General Affairs said she had invited the unions and the two other ministers to the meeting. The Windward Islands Civil Servants Union/Private Sector Union (WICSU/PSU) has already responded indicating that it will be present at today’s meeting. Also scheduled to attend are the Windward Islands Teachers Union (WITU) which is a member of the GOA and the ABVO St. Maarten union and the NAPB union, which will attend as observers.
Wescot-Williams told reporters at Wednesday’s Council of Ministers press briefing that she had officially sent government’s position on the COLA for 2011 to the various unions via the GOA and has requested the advice of the consultative body “as soon as possible.” She said she could not find any formal correspondence to the unions via the GOA where their advice on the COLA had been requested.
She also apologized to the unions for not responding to each one of their correspondences in her letter informing them of the GOA meeting. She explained that a number of letters had been received, some from individual unions and some from the unions collectively. By the time government responded to one letter, another was received, hence the opinions being expressed about correspondences being received and being late etc.
Wescot-Williams said she attempted to “put things back on track.” The paper trail of communications on the COLA issue in the GOA, she said, dates back to August 2012.
The 2010 COLA was paid in mid-2012. Following this payment, government informed representatives in the GOA via letter of the need to discuss the matter, the Prime Minister said. “In order to make sure that there was communication, I as Prime Minister on more than one occasions have sat with the GOA to discuss government’s position, but there is a law on the GOA and the law that governs the functioning of the GOA at this time is the law that existed in the island territory days… which was transferred to St. Maarten, but transferred without any changes to the law and it’s a very short and brief law and doesn’t give much explanation on how exactly the GOA should do its work.”
She stressed that the GOA is an independent body that advises government on matters pertaining to civil servants. While the Prime Minister or any other minister has a role in the GOA, they are not part of its structure.
The unions have indicated that they are seeking a firm commitment from government for the paying of the 2011 and 2012 COLA to their members which they contend should be indexed to workers’ salaries. Government has so far included 50 per cent of the payment in the draft 2013 budget, but this cannot be paid until the budget has been finalized. The unions and its members are not accepting the 50 per cent payment.
The unions are also expected to table their own proposals on the future sustainability of the COLA payment as they are against this being done by Dutch consultants, while the unions are capable of proposing solutions.
Source: The Daily Herald, St. Maarten