There seems to be no end in sight to government’s attempts to have public sector workers accept a five per cent pay cut, to help the country with its fiscal deficit. And, if the unions and government cannot come to an agreement soon, the matter it would seem, is headed for protest action on the part of the unions. Where the government is concerned, it may have to settle for a last resort; seeking parliamentary approval for the pay-cuts. The other option, retrenchment, may very well prove suicidal to the Saint Lucia Labour Party government, now into the third year of its five year term.
According to prime minister Kenny Anthony on Tuesday during an address to the nation, the unions were presented last Friday with the options that have been put forward by the Ministry of Finance. Given the current unemployment problem, the government does not favour retrenchment the PM added.
He then disclosed the proposal placed on the table before the Unions. The six point plan is as follows:
1. A reduction of 5% in the wages of Public Officers and all other employees of the Crown, from Grades 4 to 21. This reduction will be levied on gross salaries that is, basic salary plus allowances. The reduction will not apply to the judiciary or the Governor General.
2. The introduction of a wage freeze to cover the current triennium of wage negotiations.
3. The introduction of agreed benchmarks to govern further wage increases. To ensure and maintain sustainability, it is proposed that wage adjustments beyond the current triennium should be related to broad macro-economic and fiscal indicators. These should include:
(a) GDP Growth Rate of 2.5%;
(b) Achievement of a Current Account Surplus of 3% of GDP;
(c) An agreed level of inflation;
(d)The unemployment rate;
(e) The level of wages in the overall economy as measured by the wage index; and
(f) Agreed productivity gains.
4. A Memorandum of Understanding to be signed by all parties to the Agreement to reflect the points of agreement.
5. The establishment of a Monitoring Committee, made up of representatives of the Government and all Public Sector Unions and Associations, to monitor the implementation of the Agreement between the parties.
6. The establishment of a Commission, to be known as a “Spending and Government Efficiency Commission”, to advise Government on the most efficient and cost-effective government organizational structure and governing processes.”
Public Sector Unions and Associations were expected to take the proposal before their membership this week. But following these meetings a number of these unions have rejected the government’s offer. They include the Saint Lucia’s Teachers Union as well as the Police Welfare Association who is expected to place before Government a proposal of its own. The Civil Service Association (CSA) headed by president Mary Isaac, have continued to stay away from having any discussion with the government on the matter of wage cuts. This, according to the president is due to the fact that the 5% cut was already reflected in the budget ahead of any talks with the unions. This she has deemed “disrespectful.”
On Friday the Unions and Associations were expected to meet with the pm who is also the minister for finance, members of his Cabinet and officials from the Ministry of Finance, to continue discussions on the fiscal challenges facing the Government. At that meeting, representatives were expected to convey the reactions of the Unions and Associations to the proposals presented.
However, the Fire Service, the CSA and the police association all opted out of Friday’s discussions. The STAR has learnt that the talks reached deadlock Friday with no conclusion being arrived at. It is anyone’s guess what cards the government will play next.