A virtual stalemate had been declared late last year between the government’s wage negotiating team and the Trade Union Federation which represents a collective of trade unions here.
Neither side was willing to budge from its position—on the one hand a zero percent increase from Government and a one off EC$1000 bonus, and on the other a 16% increase for the triennium 2010-2013 by the Unions. The Unions had been insisting Government’s ability to offer the increase in light of an increase in Government’s revenue they argued, since the introduction of VAT in October of last year. However in an address to the nation earlier this year after painting a grim picture of the economy the Prime Minister of Saint Lucia Kenny Anthony called on the TUF to consider “the severity of the situation.” “In the interest of the country, forego any significant salary increase at this time for the period 2010-2012, so that we can start anew fresh negotiations for the period 2013-2015,” the Prime Minister had put forward. “Government has offered every public officer a $1000.00 bonus until such time we can be in a better financial situation. We believe there is greater equity in this as persons who are at the lower grades will be the greatest beneficiaries. For instance, a Grade 3 Officer would receive a bonus equivalent to 5 percent of his or her annual salary,” Dr. Anthony who is also the Minister of Finance had said.
“This proposal would equate to about $10 million which the Government would have to source from bonds: which is, as I have explained, borrowed money,” he went on to say. Since then there has been several meetings between the TUF and its membership as well as between the TUF and the Government’s negotiating team, with talks expected to come to an end before the end of February, 2013 ahead of the start of the next triennium. However from all indications neither side was willing to budge this week from their adjusted positions and this we have been reliably informed could result in possible strike action here by the various sectors including teachers and public servants. The TUF for its part has now presented the Government with a request of a six percent increase along with certain conditions for workers.
Government we have been informed have rejected most of the conditions whilst holding on to its latest offer of four percent. Speaking to RCI news on Thursday Mary Isaac President of the Civil Service Association explained some of those benefits which she said include a one-time duty free concession on vehicles for travelling officers. “We are (also) looking at the pension issue which have really been a problem for people retiring from the service as well as members coming in to the public service who do not have a pension,” she said. “We are waiting for a favourable response from the GNT and when we get a response then the members will decide you know on what course of action they will take,” she went on to say.
The CSA president went on to add that members were under a lot of pressure and some of them are beginning to feel unwell. This was a claim supported by head of the TUF Julian Monrose when the STAR spoke with him late Thursday afternoon. “I mean I was present when the teachers who were meeting today to discuss the matter left the meeting feeling very depressed. I would not be surprised if that affects them very seriously,” he said. Pressed as to whether that would be an all-out strike or sick-out next week, his response, “you can interpret this how you want.” Monrose also told the STAR that several of the TUF member bodies met on Thursday to discuss the latest developments and would then direct the leadership as to what course of action should be taken. “The TUF now has to meet as a body and decide how we move collectively since they have rejected the GNT offer. So we are now back at our request for nine percent,” Monrose says.
On Thursday February 21, the eve of the island’s observance of 34 years of political independence, there were some disruptions to some public sectors. Students had to remain home from school since most teachers were meeting to discuss the latest developments and some businesses were also reporting a slower than normal customs department, all signs that something ominous was afoot. The frustration expressed by several Government workers on Thursday also seem to indicate that there may be no turning back next week where serious protest action is concerned by an aggrieved public sector.