President of the Civil Service Association (CSA) Mary Isaac said the industrial action, which began today, Monday, March 18, 2013 against government’s four-percent wage increase offer, will intensify and continue until members hear from their employer, the Government of St. Lucia.
Isaac told St. Lucia News Online (SNO) in a phone interview that some government departments and ministries were without employees today. She said some members are still unaware that an industrial action is underway, but once they do, more workers will stay away from work and it will force the government to respond.
“Everywhere (government) is open but the workers are not there,” she said.
When asked how long the strike will continue, Isaac said: “What the members are doing is we are waiting to hear from our employer. We will be able to decide then how long it goes until we hear from them.”
According to Isaac, government has been using temporary government workers who are not members of the CSA, as well as persons from the National Initiative to Create Employment (NICE) to fill the void left by workers on strike.
“They’re been redeployed to different locations… These workers are being used to do public workers work,” Isaac noted.
Meanwhile, Isaac said a lot of misinformation about the negotiations has been circulating and this may have been deliberate.
She noted that the Trade Union Federation (TUF), the umbrella organisation for all civil service trade unions including the CSA, has been willing to accept a 4.5 percent wage increase with special benefits or 9.5 percent without benefits. She said the TUF had dropped their proposals from as much as 16 percent, but the Government Negotiating Team (GNT) has not allowed for due process to take place.
Isaac said the GNT has rejected the 4.5 percent increase with conditions and are still sticking to its four-percent offer. With that out the way, Isaac said the TUF and the CSA were hoping to conclude on negotiations on the alternative offer of 9.5 percent without conditions.
Instead, she said the GNT has gone outside the box and negotiated a deal with the police for four percent with benefits, but was not willing to negotiate separately with the CSA last week Thursday for a 9.5 percent increase without benefits.
She said during the meeting on Thursday, the TUF allowed the CSA to bring their case forward for the 9.5 percent without conditions/benefits, but alleged that the GNT refused to entertain negotiations from the CSA specifically, agreeing to hear from the TUF, the umbrealla organisation, only.
The CSA president said this is unfair because if the GNT could negotiate separately with the police union body then why is it not willing to cooperate specifically with the CSA. As such, she said the GNT and CSA have not completed negotiations and they want to hear from their employer, the government.
She said whereas the police will get high risk allowance which will bring their total increase to seven percent and teachers will be getting a special allowance of $500-$600, general civil servants who are members of the CSA, are not entitled to these special allowances, which is their case for a 9.5 percent increase.
She said civil servants continue to lose benefits whenever they negotiate for a wage increase. Some of those benefits include pension and performance-based increments, which she said has been suspended for years.
Commenting on the pension system, Isaac said up to 2002 civil servants were obtaining pension directly from government but all this changed in about Feb. 2003 when contributions had to be paid to the NIC. She said 55 is the mandatory government retirement age but pensions are paid at age 65 – a 10-year gap which unions have been negotiating to for years to change.