St Vincent teachers’ union concerned about IMF deal

IMF-1Kingstown, St Vincent (CMC) — The St Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers’ Union (SVGTU) says the Ralph Gonsalves government “must reiterate its stance on job security” in light of the government’s undertakings with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

In addition, the union said the government must “give the assurance that such agreement will not at all interfere with the established terms and conditions for teachers and other public servants”. It also expressed concern that there has been a wage freeze since 2011.

The union made reference to an August 1 press release in which the IMF announced the approval of a US$6.4 million disbursement to St. Vincent and the Grenadines under the Rapid Credit Facility and the Rapid Financing Instrument.

The IMF said the money will help the country meet an urgent balance-of-payments need due to severe flooding and landslides in December 2013 that caused massive damage to infrastructure, housing and agriculture.

In the press release, the IMF also said rehabilitation and reconstruction spending is expected to widen the fiscal deficit this year.

The IMF said that the Gonsalves government remains committed to securing a sustainable fiscal position and intends to generate a primary surplus of at least two per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) in the medium term to ensure that the debt-to-GDP ratio is put on a declining path.

“The authorities also intend to carry out civil service and pension reforms, which will boost competitiveness and employment,” the IMF added.

But the SVGTU said it is “all too cognisant of the negative consequences of such arrangements for public sector workers, especially teachers.

“Furthermore, SVGTU raises concerns about what appears to be a unilateral wage freeze imposed on workers since 2011. Moreover, current media reports suggest that the Government has not been up-to-date with its contributions to the NIS on behalf of its employees,” the union said.

Prime Minister Gonsalves, who is also Minister of Finance, will take to Parliament on Tuesday a resolution proposing that the government enter into agreement with the National Insurance Board to raise an EC$15 million (One EC dollar = US$0.37 cents) loan from the National Insurance Fund to liquidate outstanding contributions owed by the Government to the National Insurance Fund.

The government proposes to raise the loan by the issue of treasury notes totalling EC$15 million.

The union said it viewed “with deep concern”, the media reports pertaining to the status of Government NIS contributions.

“Teachers are anxious, and wish to be assured that contributions to the NIS are up-to-date and that retirement benefits are intact and available when due. The SVGTU therefore calls on the Government to engage in dialogue with all stakeholders on these and related issues,” the union said.

Leader of the Opposition Arnhim Eustace last week accused the government of subtly introducing austerity measures as a result of the agreement with IMF.

Eustace, an economist and former finance minister, said that when interpreted, the language used in the IMF press release points to a very bleak picture.

“… what it is saying is that the government has agreed to contain the wage bill and this can only mean no new hiring, little or no promotion, and no salary increase. In other words, they are imposing a wage freeze on the civil servants,” he said.

But Foreign Affairs Minister Camillo Gonsalves, in an opinion piece submitted on a local news website, said Eustace is wrong.

“…the Hon Leader of the Opposition clearly erred when he attempted to link disbursements to SVG under these instruments to some sort of austerity agreement or programme by the IMF,” said the Foreign Minister.

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