Tonga govt warns wage demand unaffordable
The Tongan government says it cannot afford a demand from public servants for higher wages.
Tonga's Secretary of Finance and National Planning, Tatafu Moeaki, says the government cannot afford a demand from public servants for higher wages.
He says while it is the workers' right to ask for higher salaries there is no money available.
But the Public Service Association says the Government has the money and it has to better prioritise its spending.
It is intending to go on strike over the matter next week.
PSA secretary general, Mele Amanaki, says it wants up to 22 percent in cost of living adjustments to be paid over the next two years, with an immediate commitment to at least six percent.
She told Don Wiseman this is based on assessments the government itself has done on public servants wages going back nearly 10 years.
MELE AMANAKI: If government doesn't do this, the next time we do a review it will be accumulated. There is no way the government can run away from it, because the cost of living keeps rising here in Tonga.
DON WISEMAN: Yes, although there's no doubt that the country has been struggling and is continuing to struggle financially.
MA: They have been promoting a lot of things and spending on a lot of things that should not have been spent on. I'm not going to go into those details. Because one of the things that we have asked government is to return some money that has been paid to Tongasat is now in the Supreme Court so I cannot comment on that, on how government has, in our opinion, misused the budget.
DW: You've threatened strike action from next week, is that still likely?
MA: Yes, we are serious. We are just following the 15 days that is required to us by the regulation to give notice to government. And between that 15 days, those are the days the regulation allows us to come together to the table to meet. We've only met twice and government will not come up to meet halfway with us.
DW: As a union, you don't represent all public servants, do you. So what sort of percentage is going to be on strike?
MA: Well, 650 have signed up. The public servants, there are over 3000 who are public servants. We are not including the Ministry of Education in strike action because of the exams of the students. So mostly this is just Ministry of Health and the other smaller ministries. We can close customs, we can close the wharf and the airport.
DW: What will be the impact on health?
MA: Well, I think you know very well what will be the impact on health. If 80 percent of the health workers will go on strike. That is something for the government to think about.
DW: Are you still hopeful that in the intervening days the government will sit down and talk about this with you?
MA: Well, we are still open. Our last meeting was last Wednesday. We clearly told the acting Prime Minister and his team of four people that we are still open for dialogue. It was them who said they do not want any more dialogue. So we are still open until Friday or even Sunday, because the strike will start on Monday.
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