Negotiations at Zero
I listened with much aplomb to the hubris being generated on both sides of the public servants negotiating divide (collective bargaining). Does the government realistically expect to negotiate two consecutive four-year periods by starting off at zero and ending with 1? Likewise, do the respective employee representative organizations truly expect any reasonable (Read: pragmatic) offer for a salary increase above five percent? Regardless, and forever caught in the middle it seems, are the thousands of government employees who still remain doubtful as to who is telling the truth, and to what extent.
Is it fair for the employer, in this case the Government of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago to begin (note, begin, not end) negotiations through the Chief Personnel Officer at zero? Those who appear to be more in favour of the government’s justification based on one conventional negotiating strategy, which is to never declare your hand up front, or in other words, to start low and gradually end where you want to be, would say yes.
Nevertheless, those who appear to be more in favour of the trade union perspective would counteract that “even if’ that is a generally-accepted practice, it is an argument that is baseless today, in light of the fact that public servants have been working on 2014 salaries. Incidentally, this wide swath of employees includes not only those categories of daily, weekly and monthly-paid workers employed at government ministries and agencies, but also members of the protective services such as police officers, fire officers, port employees, nurses and teachers, many of whom would have gone above and beyond duty to keep the ship of state afloat during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has arguably caused many global economies to contract, due to business closure and foreclosure.
Which brings me to my next question: Is it fair for the trade unions to reasonably lobby for a double-figure salary increase (or any figure close to that) now? Especially at a time when governments around the world have had to recalibrate their strategy for governance and service, due to the lingering COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the present Russian invasion of Ukraine (which has triggered a sharp increase in the price of wheat and oil as global commodities)?
Yet, it can be argued that working for the same salary for eight consecutive years, while the simultaneous cost of basic commodities, as well as petroleum have increased, is a recipe for frustration. Perhaps the government should lead by example? How can the gospel of austerity and belt-tightening be preached to the masses, while the politicians and the political elite seem to be oblivious (or tone-deaf) as they live high on the hog and seemingly unaffected?
Unlike previous negotiations, this particular one promises to be eventful, especially against the backdrop of massive job losses and government foreign-loan borrowing. The side that succeeds just might be the one that is more vocal and more popular with the population at this time.
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