Just when the Saint Lucia Civil Service Association imagined it had outwitted the government, more proof that things are not always as they appear.
Last month the CSA ended negotiations with its refusal of a proffered four percent wage increase, following months of wrangling with the Government. In the best interests of the country, the CSA announced, it had opted to accept the government’s initial offer of zero increase.
On Monday this week the Minister for the Public Service James Fletcher convened a press conference centered on the conclusion of negotiations with the CSA. Before delivering the news that the government was about to hand the union exactly what they had refused, Dr Fletcher presented attending reporters with a rear-view-mirror perspective of the situation.
He first listed the nine public sector unions and staff associations that had sat down with the Government Negotiating Team. Fletcher said the negotiations for the period April 1, 2010 to 31 March 2013 were in three cycles.
“The first cycle deals with non- financial terms and conditions of employment. The second cycle addresses allowances while the third focuses on wages and salaries,” Fletcher explained.
He then outlined the various scenarios that had transpired during the negotiations on wages and salaries, with the public sector unions represented by the umbrella body of the TUF. These included the government’s first offer of zero with a lump sum bonus of EC$1000. “The GNT subsequently put three new proposals on the table: zero, zero with a $750 lump sum payment; zero, zero, with a $500 lump sum, and zero, zero, three.”
Said Fletcher: “The GNT, in an attempt to bring the negotiations to an amicable conclusion, made a final offer of four percent to the TUF. This salary and wage settlement was accepted by all members of the TUF, with the exception of the CSA.
He pointed out that the CSA was demanding 9.5 percent plus a series of conditions. The GNT subsequently wrote to the union outlining the final offer of four percent, plus seven conditions.
“However the CSA responded to this letter by informing the government that at a meeting of its members 228 public officers voted to accept a zero settlement for the 2010 to 2013 triennium,” said Fletcher.
He said the Cabinet of ministers had “deliberated on this matter” and was guided by a number of factors including the scenario where officers represented by one union could be paid less than officers represented by other unions who are in the same pay grade if the CSA position was accepted. This, he said would create serious anomalies.
“Secondly there are currently over 2,500 civil servants. Only 228 voted for a zero wage settlement. Additionally, there are several petitions from several government agencies requesting payment of the same settlement agreed to with other members of the TUF. The number of names on those petitions already dwarfs the number of people who voted for the zero wage settlement,” the minister said.
“Cabinet has since agreed to pay all civil servants a four percent increase to correct the anomalies created by the decision of the CSA,” Fletcher told the media Monday. “As a result of the correction of these anomalies, the civil servants will also receive the differences in salaries that would have accrued as a result of the salary increases that will now be applied for the respective years.”
Dr. Fletcher went on to say that the Cabinet still recognized the 228 who had voted not to accept a salary increase and has agreed that any civil servant not wishing to have the four percent salary increase should put it in writing.
“These public servants are asked to write to their respective Permanent Secretaries who is the accounting officer for the agency, copied to the accountant general, indicating that they do not wish to accept the salary increase. This letter or memo should be sent to the Permanent Secretary before May 31, to allow for the necessary changes to be made by the Treasury Department.”
Asked to explain the caveat, Fletcher reiterated that government was aware of several petitions from CSA members requesting the four percent. “But that is not what is guiding us. What is guiding us is the fact that we believe there will be anomalies created in the accounting system. But those anomalies will not only affect things right now, but we believe that since we have already started negotiations for the next triennium 2013-2016 it means now that civil servants themselves will be starting at a disadvantage because not everybody is starting at the same point.”
The Minister added that the GNT will also be going through its own post-mortem and recommended a fresh pair of eyes and ears for the process.