Economist urges tripartite approach to wage plans

Things can become very messy if the Government does not utilise the tripartite approach to a proposed wage restraint plan for public servants for the negotiation period 2017 to 2020, leading economist Dr Ralph Henry said yesterday.

Henry made the comment in response to questions on the issue after Finance Minister Colm Imbert announced the plan during an International Monetary Fund forum yesterday.

Referring to the consequences of the wage freeze of the late 1980s, when then National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR) government, in its first budget in 1987, froze public servants’ wages and suspended Cost of Living Allowance (COLA) after a drastic fall in oil prices, Henry said, “Without the tripartite approach, it can become very messy. It’s absolutely important to have that platform.”

Imbert’s proposal is coming at a time when energy sector revenue has dropped from $21 billion to $5 billion for the 2014/2015 period due to low oil prices, forcing Government to cut state expenditure across the board.

In the 1980s, Henry, a very active member of the Public Services Association, was chief negotiator for six public sector unions.

He was also chairman of the Minimum Wages Board and Industrial Development Board and was a “kind of advisor” to the NAR government, he said. He is now chairman and a founder/shareholder of Kairi Consultants, a group of former University of the West Indies academics who do work in the Caribbean and Southern Africa.

Asked if he felt a wage freeze in the public sector can have consequences like it did in the 1980s, when prolonged protests by public servants over the wage freeze and COLA cut culminated in a bloody attempted overthrow of the NAR government by Jamaat-al-Muslimeen insurrectionists in 1990, Henry said, “I don’t think workers would not react negatively. And that’s not in the best interest of the country.” Read more

Source: Guardian Trinidad and Tobago