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CARDI’s overworked, underpaid staff complain to Board of Governors

Wary of fruitless negotiations, staff and pensioners of the cash-strapped Caribbean Agricultural Research Institute (CARDI) have complained bitterly about a  12-year old “wage freeze”, late payment of salaries and pensions, and increased workloads.

The formal complaint was lodged to the just concluded Board of Governors meeting in Suriname that coincided with the holding of the  13th Caribbean Week of Agriculture (CWA 2014).

CARDI’s outgoing Executive Director, Dr. Arlington Chesney said workers are owed approximately US$259,000 dating back to 2007.

While reiterating that Caribbean Community (Caricom) member-nations need to pay up their dues in a phased manner so that CARDI can pay its operational debts, Chesney said the incoming Executive Director, Barton Clarke would be permitted to open negotiations with staff members.

“The management and the Board do appreciate the patience of our staff.  They have been owing money since 2004 so it’s 10 years since they have not been able to get what is due to them,” said Chesney.

The CARDI boss said Clarke would be allowed to hold talks on outstanding sums for the 2004 to 2013 period. “We will make a provision to allow the new Executive Director to enter into some negotiations,” he added. Chesney’s announcement came hours after CWA2014 wrapped up in this former Dutch colony that boasts rich agricultural potential.

In a document titled “CARDI Staff Grievances,” which was presented to  CARDI’s Board of Governors,  the workers  complained that no fruitful salary talks have been held since 2005, resulting in a “wage freeze.”

When negotiators sit down around the bargaining table, they would also have to consider the scrapping of the Vacation Savings Plan2000 and its replacement with a Performance Appraisal System that has so far yielded no benefit.  “Appraisals completed by staff are filed with no resultant action in terms of compensation,” the workers state.

The CARDI workers are also upset not only about late payment of salaries but also about the move towards contract employment that has seen the withdrawal of a number of benefits.  “Staff entitlements (benefits) have been removed, coinciding with the wage freeze period. This entails the non-issuance of replacement/new CARDI uniforms and subsistence for staff when attending workshops.

“Retired staff members eligible for pension payments as of present with a number of long-standing staff members approaching retirement to face the same,”  according to the document.

The staff members across the region boasted that they are faithful and committed to CARDI but they are also angered by increasing workloads due to externally-funded projects. “Existing staff members have been the recipients of increasing workloads, due to increases in external resource funding for projects towards the execution of CARDI’s work programme but moreso owing to the non-replacement of staff- retired or resigned- with no concomitant increases in remunerations which remain at the 2004 rate,” they said. They also added that staff are working under conditions below the Occupation Safety and Health Administration Standards.

Although CARDI staff understood that a number of Caricom governments were unable to pay up their contributions because of domestic economic problems, they said theyt were also faced with personal financial difficulties.  “Remunerations to  staff have continued to and still remains a debilitating condition plaguing the Institute, with the effects becoming even more burdensome to staff with rising costs of living, increases in national insurance payments, medical plan payments and taxes, devaluation of local currency in some specific country cases and staff inability to qualify for bank loans due to the bank debt service ratio in various cases,” states the document.