Not only were several civil servants who have been on a three-week strike back at work on Tuesday, but so, too, was David Demarque, General Secretary of the Civil Service Association, who was conspicuously absent from Monday’s protest march. His absence, according to CSA prez Mary Isaac, was not a sign of discord. She said the veteran trade unionist had been ill. Yesterday, however, he appeared chirpy enough!
By our own estimates, a little over two hundred CSA members joined the march, despite the fact that the union represents thousands of public servants. The CSA took to the streets on Monday, in what was described as a protest demonstration against the government’s decision not to bend to their demands for a 9.5 percent wage increase for the just ended triennium. This, even after some Trade Union Federation members had accepted government’s offer of four percent. They included the Saint Lucia’s Teachers Union, the Police Welfare Association, The Fire Service Association, Correctional Officers and The Saint Lucia Dental and Medical Workers.
Monday’s march started shortly before 11 a.m. from the CSA headquarters in Sans Soucis, then through the streets of Castries—under the watchful eyes of the police. Several of the participants carried placards and wore red shirts, led by their president Mary. Chanting Nou Vlay Wespay (we want respect) and “no better days,” members shoved their placards towards the media cameras in a determined effort to attract public attention. One such cardboard placard screamed: “Jesus wept when he heard four percent!”
The march, which lasted about two hours, ended at the CSA headquarters where Mary Isaac addressed the media. No surprise that she declared the march as “quite successful.” Also that “the members were very determined to make the point that they need respect and they need to be compensated for their work.”
She said the marchers had “accomplished what we set out to do.” Additionally, she would later meet with her membership to decide on the way forward.
“I am just waiting on what decision they will take,” she went on. “The vote will be on what the GNT has given us. The GNT has said they will not negotiate under duress and I am going to have to inform the members to make a decision based on that.”
Just over an hour later the members voted unanimously to return to work Tuesday (yesterday), while their union leaders returned to the negotiating table with the GNT.
“I am hoping that that we do not have to deal again with negotiations as they have been conducted,” said Isaac. “We are hoping this is the last time we are going to go through something like this. As I have been saying, I believe that this is a model that has outlived its usefulness. We need to look at better ways for compensating workers, instead of what we are engaged in now.”
The Union members ahead of taking the vote Monday had been presented with a new proposal put to the GNT Saturday, with the assistance of CSA advisors Matthew Roberts, the former House Speaker, and former Permanent Secretary Mark Louis. Part of the proposal includes benefits for the members to bring them on par with the other union members, an EC$175 allowance for grade 1-6 workers and EC$100 allowance for grades 7-18 employees as the restrictive officer allowance.
On Tuesday morning, Wilfred Pierre told the STAR the CSA was hoping to meet with the GNT later the same day, or at least by today (Wednesday). “We have scheduled a meeting with our members for Friday to apprise them of what will come out of this meeting,” he said.
Also on Tuesday the St Lucia Chamber of Commerce Industry and Agriculture appealed to the parties to “move expeditiously to the next logical step: arbitration.” In a press release issued by executive director Brian Louisy, the Chamber noted “the explicit acceptance by both sides of this dispute that the negotiation is at an impasse. As such, the Chamber appeals to the CSA and government to convene a binding arbitration
panel in order to arrive at a decisive and speedy resolution.”
Moreover, the continued protraction of the dispute, in the Chamber’s eyes was “pointless.” Continuing as before could only further “damage the relationship between these two critical partners, with a “huge negative impact on the citizenry and the economy.”