Tonga's public servants strike action cancelled

A planned industrial action by Tonga’s public servants as part of an ongoing row over pay rise has been called off.

Members of the Public Servants Association (PSA) were due to stage strike action next week beginning Monday 20 – one month before Tonga’s general election holds on November 27.

In a statement, the PSA said its executive in a meeting on Friday last week had decided to “withdraw” the strike action claiming it was because the Minister of Justice, Hon. Clive Edwards announced the government will “declare Tonga as state of emergency if it reach to a stage that the strike goes ahead”

“The priority to PSA is the safety of the public servants and their families as the Emergency Powers does not allow political meeting of 5 people or more and they can use the military to take them to prison without a warrant”, PSA’s Secretary General, Mele ‘Amanaki said in the statement.

However in a statement issued to Kaniva News, Hon Clive Edwards denied government planned to declare emergency law or “issued any threats to anyone” if civil servants would go on strike.

“It is unfortunate that the Minister of Justice has to deny the false allegations that Cabinet will activate Emergency Powers to prevent the Public Service from going on strike,” the statement says.

The claim by PSA against the minister came after the minister was interviewed by Radio FM89.5 on Friday.

Following the interview PSA released a statement through internet saying, “The Minister of Justice, Mr. Clive Edwards, confirmed to radio 89.5FM news today that Cabinet will activate the Emergency Powers! Cabinet will now resort to use guns to prevent the public servants from exercising their Constitutional Rights.”

The PSA release, which was also sent to Radio 89.5FM, was quickly corrected by the Radio claiming it was “misleading” and “incorrect”.

The managing director of the Radio, Katalina Tohi,  in an email to ‘Amanaki said: “…according to the minister government is prepared to provide needed services at any time during any strike even if  it’s needed to declare a state of emergency. I cannot interpret for the Minister’s comment and everyone is free for his or her own interpretations but my interpretation is calling for help like recruiting volunteers locally or internationally”.

PSA

The PSA demanded a 20 percent cost of living allowance (COLA) citing the 40 percent increase of the consumer price index since the last pay rise in 2005.

In the government’s financial budget 2012/14 a 5 percent COLA was granted and 1 percent was granted in the 2014/15 budget.

The PSA recommended 6-10% for the 2014/2015 to be paid in the 2015/2016 or 2016/2017 budgets in which cabinet refused to accept.

The PSA claimed the government has failed in its responsibility to abide by the memorandum of understanding signed following the largest ever industrial action held in the country in 2005.

“When resolving this strike, the Government agreed in a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with those who were on strike that the salaries will be reviewed every two years to avoid this problem from happening again. The Government did not abide by its promise”, the PSA statement says.

Government

The Secretary for Finance in a statement says the government does not have the money to financially meet the pay increase PSA demanded

The Parliament passed a resolution in August 2014 allowing the government not to grant further higher COLA for the civil service because of its “tight fiscal situation in 2014/15”.

The government agreed to talk with PSA authority and in October 3 Deputy Prime Minister Hon. Samiu Vaipulu met with PSA team saying they would negotiate a deal that could satisfy both sides.

On October 9 however the negotiators returned to the negotiation table but this time the government team which included the Finance Minister Hon. Dr ‘Aisake Valu Eke  told PSA the government has already done enough after it granted the 6 percent COLA in its budget 2013/14 and 2014/15.

The PSA disagreed and threatened it would go on strike on October 20.

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