Source: CMC: Prime Minister Gaston Browne Monday warned of possible retrenchment in the public service if trade unions continue to demand unrealistic high wages for workers in Antigua and Barbuda.

“We know that there will be many challenges, but we will not be daunted by those challenges. We remain focused on transforming this country into an economic powerhouse,” Browne said, adding “but I say to you as workers that we must all gird our loins and join the battle, that there is no room for loafers and must all contribute.

Addressing a Labour Day rally here to mark the International Day of Workers, Browne said workers can be assured that his administration, which in 2018 gave a five per cent increase to workers “and we committed to do more than five per cent. “We are about to conclude those negotiations and I am absolutely sure that at the end of the day when we would have resolved the issues…that we would be able to maintain the positive parity for workers.”

He said this was being done “amid very difficult circumstances” brought on by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“We could have said to public sector workers because of the devastating effects of COVID that we do not have the capacity to give an increase. There are many countries that have taken that position, but we are a work organisation and we recognise that we must go the extra mile to improve the lot of workers in this country.

“But I ask our workers to be reasonable. I ask you to engage us constructively because we are not taking the position that we are not giving increases. The issue is how much and again we ask you to be reasonable.

“Because if you ask or make demands that are unreasonable that’s beyond the means of the government it will be self-defeating because you will force the government to retrench. On the other hand, it could be inflationary, in that if prices increase too soon and by too large an amount it could increase prices and that again will be self-defeating.

“So let us understand that we must engage constructively. We are not seeking to resist increases,” he reiterated.
Browne said he was disappointed at the decision of some teachers to embark upon industrial action recently affecting schools for at least two weeks even though “all of the demands you have made, we have satisfied those demands.

“.We did not argue that we did not wish to meet the demands and yet still many of them took the destructive action of striking for almost two weeks, literally depriving our students of two weeks of contact time.

“I say to the workers of this country that that type of behaviour is self-defeating. There is no value in fighting a government that is cooperating with you,” Browne said, adding that he hopes when the other unions come forward to negotiate “they will have a more constructive approach and be reasonable with their demands to make sure that we can give increases”.

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