FRIDAY, 14 SEPTEMBER 2012
~ As unions and Govt discuss future of COLA ~
PHILIPSBURG–Union representatives and Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams met in a GOA session on Thursday to discuss the future of paying the cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) to civil servants and teachers.
GOA is the consultation body that handles issues related to civil servants. Windward Islands Teachers Union (WITU) President Claire Elshot told reporters at a press conference on Thursday that this would be an ongoing discussion to come up with a way to handle the payment in the future. She made clear that the union and its members would not relinquish this payment.
In a press release issued by her cabinet on Thursday, Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams said government “looked forward” to having that discussion on COLA. However, she said the system currently used for indexation could lead to serious financial consequences and would be untenable.
“This is related to the fact that the way the indexation is currently calculated the cost-of-living increase is granted to compensate for the full cost-of-living index every year and every year it becomes a structural part of the salaries, which means that salaries are adjusted on top of the indexation of the year before.
“This has consequences for pensions and all other aspects that relate to the base salaries. The bottom line is that even if we were to find ourselves in better economic times, we cannot meet those structural adjustments of public salaries.
“We need to therefore talk about the future of the indexation as part of the broader discussion of public servants’ entitlements, and I expect the members of the GOA to put their heads together and deliberate these broader issues and come up with proposals.”
Wescot-Williams had said earlier in the meeting that she thought it was “extremely important” for the talks on the COLA to be held “so that we don’t end up in a situation such as we had with the payment of the last indexation that was not taken up in the budget in first instance.”
Unions represented in the GOA were joined by other union representatives for the meeting.
Wescot-Williams: “I have indicated on several occasions that I do not want the matter to go the same way it went with the last payout. The matter of the indexation of salaries is part of a Government’s policy and Government can and should make this decision on a yearly basis given the financial constraints or possibilities, if there are such for that payment.
“The matter of adjusting salaries in accordance with the inflation and increase in prices is a matter that Government wants to look at not only in terms of indexation of salaries, but also overall the cost of living for the people of St. Maarten.
“Not only civil servants, but all persons are affected by the increases in the cost of living. Therefore Government wants to approach the cost of living from a more comprehensive perspective,” said Wescot-Williams. “These are financially challenging times, yet a time that there is so much still to be done and improved.”
The meetings of the GOA on the COLA will continue in the near future on the basis of an initial draft discussion paper.