Shayne Felix, president of the Saint Lucia Fire Service Association, is silent on exactly what form of industrial action firemen and women here will take after being handed a mandate to act on Monday March 30, 2014. At a CSA Centre meeting Monday morning, firefighters voted 64-5 in support of the association taking some form of industrial action as deemed necessary.
Asked about their major grievances Tuesday, Felix told the STAR they were numerous. However, of paramount concern is the fact that nothing has been implemented from a report coming out of an enquiry into the fire service two years ago.
“One of the things in the report is that the Fire Chief deliberately misled the authorities by telling them certain persons had qualifications that they did not possess,” Felix says.
“He did that all in an effort to deprive other persons who rightfully deserved it,” he also contends.
Allegations that a number of senior fire officers were involved in acts of sexual harassment–an issue dealt with at the enquiry–has also seen no reaction from the authorities. This Shayne Felix says is his association’s second major gripe.
A number of fire officers have over the years alleged that female officers have been coerced into having sex with senior officers in exchange for better shifts and even a chance of promotion. It has also been alleged that female officers with qualifications for promotion have been sidelined for not “playing ball.”
A female officer qualified in fire investigation is still yet to be appointed. After her revelation was published in this newspaper, she was relocated from Soufriere to Castries.
These matters alone, according to Felix, call for strict disciplinary action to be taken against a number of senior fire fighters as well as the chief.
“But there are also a number of other issues dating back to as far as 2006, that we have been waiting to be resolved,” he says.
Although Monday’s meeting did not have the numbers reflective of the number of firefighters on island, Felix says the meeting did represent the legally mandated quorum of fifty percent or more.
“One of the challenges we have as an association is that unlike unions and other associations, when they call a general meeting every single member can attend, even teachers can have school closed for meetings, not so for firefighters. We cannot do that because we cannot leave any station unmanned because persons must be on duty,” Felix explained.
Following Monday’s meeting, the fire association president says his executive met to strategize. “We have sat as executive and planned the way forward. However we are not going public with what our plans are just yet,” Felix says.
“We have been informed that the authorities as well as the fire service management have been planning ways to avert any action we may take, including recalling retired fire officers and bringing in others from the region,” he went on.
“But what we really want is for them to resolve our issues and implement the recommendations in the report.”
Legally the fire service does not fall under the “Essential Services Act.” Instead it is listed as a “protective service” and as such can proceed with industrial action.
What format this will take and exactly when, only time will tell!