The role of the Chief Personnel Officer(CPO) to control wage negotiations has come under political interference by the Finance Minister, Colm Imbert. That was the perspective shared by the Public Services Association(PSA) President and the Leader of the Progressive Democratic Patriots(PDP), Watson Duke when he was interviewed by Dr. Bhoendradatt Tewarie on his “Brighter Morning with Bhoe” morning program.
Also broadcasting Live on his Facebook page, Duke told listeners that Imbert had a habit of intervening in wage negotiations by saying that he had not given the CPO any funds to negotiate with. However, the PSA President pointed out, “Negotiations are more than dollars and cents. It is about maintaining a particular standard of living according to the industrial relations act.” Duke also indicated that the rate of inflation and recurrent bills have eroded the purchasing power of workers since they had their last salary increase in 2013.
He emphasized that the job of the CPO was not to take instructions from the government but to act as the human resource personnel and review the classification and compensation structure of the civil service. “The CPO ought not to wait until the minister of finance say something, the CPO ought to look at the trends in society and say look for these workers to maintain parity with their counterparts, to maintain a basic standard of living they should be earning this,” Duke said.
He also suggested that the CPO losing sight of his job contributed to the problems plaguing the public service presently. He said: “That is why the public service is no longer an attractive place for persons to work. That is why productivity is at an all-time low.” He noted that workers felt locked into a cycle where the government dictated their wage increases. However, Duke put forward the argument, “It should really be dictated by the people of Trinidad and Tobago where the people demand better quality service and ensure that these persons are rewarded for work done.”
Asked by the host if he thought the CPO working on the instructions of the politician was wrong Duke stated that persons ought to be paid according to their job responsibilities. He said: “You pay a salary based on the job specifications. That is the only thing. The details of the job. It has nothing to do with the economy.” He said. Duke informed listeners that the only part that the economy plays in salary negotiations is what he called “discretionary spending.” He described, “discretionary spending as excess spending. “Like you want to buy a dress or go to the movies.” But he noted the basic determination of a salary is according to the work a person does.
On budget day, Finance Minister, Colm Imbert stated in the House of Representatives that the Chief Personnel Officer(CPO) was now authorized to begin negotiations with the larger trade union organisations. He noted that the state of the economy was showing signs of economic growth. The Finance Minister’s statements came just one budget later when in 2020 he made it clear during that presentation that the CPO was not allowed to engage in salary negotiations with the larger trade union organisations. At that time he cited the state of the economy as the reason. Public Services Association President, Watson Duke