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St. Maarten civil servants meeting on cost-of-living adjustment Thursday


PHILIPSBURG–A meeting of the consultative body for issues related to civil servants GOA has been convened for Thursday at 9:00am to discuss the cost-of-living adjustment (COLA).

The meeting was called following an urgent joint request by the unions representing civil servants, teachers, police and immigration personnel to meet with Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams to get firm details of the COLA payment such as when it will be paid. The request for the meeting with the Prime Minister was made late last week.

The Windward Islands Civil Servants Union/Private Sector Union (WICSU/PSU) and the Windward Islands Teachers Union (WITU) are represented in the GOA.

WICSU/PSU President Dearie Leonard and WITU President Claire Elshot confirmed on Sunday that a notification had been received by the unions informing them of the GOA meeting. Elshot said the notification came from the Prime Minister’s office and must have been in response to the union’s request.

The unions had met separately with their members last week to get a mandate on the way forward and then met among themselves on Thursday. It was following this meeting that the letter was drafted to be sent to Wescot-Williams.

The unions have been lobbying for some months now for the COLA payment to be made to their members. The COLA for 2011 and 2012 are due; however, government has only allocated 50 per cent of the 2011 payment in the 2013 budget. Wescot-Williams had said that the payment cannot be made until the budget is finalised.

Elshot said Sunday that the WITU will be preparing a position paper outlining the mandate given by its membership for Thursday’s meeting. The WICSU/PSU has been maintaining that it would only accept 100 per cent payment for 2011 and 2012 for its members to be indexed to their salaries and not paid in a lump sum.

Wescot-Williams, who is also the Minister of General Affairs, had said last Wednesday that according to the law the payment can only be made if it is financially feasible to do so.

Wescot-Williams had said the Remuneration and Salary Policy Performance Payments by Government ratified in 2007 stipulates that COLA will be paid when government has the financial means to do so. This policy was adopted by government when St. Maarten changed its constitutional status and became a Country within the Dutch Kingdom and is therefore in effect, she said.

Wescot-Williams had said government’s financial situation is not improving. Government has been exploring a different way of paying the adjustment, which she said the GOA had been apprised of.

Source: The Daily  Herald, St. Maarten


Unions to table proposals on COLA sustainability Thursday


~ Want firm answers on 2011, 2012 payment ~

PHILIPSBURG–The unions representing government workers will be submitting their proposals on the future sustainability of the Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) during Thursday’s meeting of the advisory body on civil servants matters GOA.

The four unions will meet today, Wednesday, to finalise preparations for tomorrow’s GOA talks and come up with proposals for the future sustainability of COLA, so that they can maintain one firm and strong position in the meeting. The GOA session was called following a joint request among the unions to meet urgently within 24 hours with Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams on the COLA last week. The request was sent late last week.

The unions are Windward Islands Teachers Union (WITU), Windward Islands Civil Servants Union/Private Sector Union (WICSU/PSU), ABVO St. Maarten union and NAPB union.

WITU President Claire Elshot told reporters on Tuesday that her union is firmly against any Dutch consultant coming to St. Maarten to “create paperwork” on a matter that the unions themselves can address. She said too that the unions are not interested in hearing government’s usual rhetoric about the COLA on tomorrow’s GOA session.

“We don’t want to hear again that the COLA is not sustainable,” Elshot said. The unions will be looking for firm commitment from government that workers will be paid 100 per cent of their COLA payment for 2011 (4.6 per cent) and 2012 (4 per cent) with the retroactive portion being paid in a lump sum. “The unions will take the first initiative to avoid any consultants coming here to dictate how COLA is to be paid,” she said alluding to the proposals that will be tabled.

WITU will also be presenting a “white paper” in Thursday’s meeting based on an International Labour Organisiton (ILO) convention on collective bargaining. She said it is hoped that this white paper will help parties map a clear way forward as it relates to future collective bargaining. She said the white paper won’t be “a 20 page book,” but will serve as a discussion point.

Elshot said the WITU membership had informed the union during last week’s general membership meeting that they will only accept 100 per cent of their payment indexed to their salaries as had been done in the past. The WICSU/PSU maintains the same position; it would only accept full payment for its membership for 2011 and 2012 indexed to their salaries and nothing less.

Elshot said the WITU membership maintains that any changes to anything that affects them should be brought to the GOA and taken to them for their input before implementation. She said too that her membership is confident that they will get all that is due to them once the budget is finalized. Perhaps, she said, government would have to scramble to make amendments to the budget once finalized to facilitate the 100 per cent payment.

She said government will have to ensure that whatever laws are needed to facilitate the payment is in place as workers consider the COLA “an acquired right.”

Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams has maintained that government cannot continue to pay COLA in the current format as this is unsustainable. Finance Minister Martin Hassink is following up on an initiative of former Finance Minister Roland Tuitt to have a Dutch consultancy firm come to the island to conduct an assessment and make proposals on an alternative sustainable form of the payment. Government has also included 50 per cent of the COLA payment in the 2013 budget, which the unions contend was done unilaterally and without their input. Wescot-Williams said last week that the payment cannot be made until the 2013 budget has been finalised.

Source: The Daily Herald, St. Maarten

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