Firefighters who took strike action are being criticised for acting within their own personal interest and failing to uphold their public responsibilities.
National Security Minister Phillip La Corbiniere made this comment on the debut of a new call-in programme last night on Choice Television dubbed “In Touch” and hosted by Press Secretary to the Prime Minister, Jadia Jn Pierre-Emmanuel.
La Corbiniere said there has been a shift in approach by the trade union movement, not only here, but throughout the Caribbean where they are able to differentiate and establish the differences between rights and responsibilities. The minister believes that the approach taken by the St. Lucia Fire Service Association (SLFSA) was the opposite and said the strike is both “sad” and “disappointing.”
He stressed that the fire service is not only responsible for fire services, but emergency ambulance services, making them a key part of the health-response team. Even while this is known to all firefighters and the complications that could be experienced with their absence, they decided to strike, he said. This has caused some setbacks, but with the help of those who chose to stay, they have been managing.
La Corbiniere stated that he met with the executive of the SLFSA before Friday and sought to get their side of the issue. However, according to him, the association position was clear: they were seeking to have the Chief Fire Officer Leslie Fontenelle removed from office. This, he stressed, was not possible and would have required a constitutional change, as was pointed out by Prime Minister Dr. Kenny Anthony.
He recalled that when the issues were brought to government’s attention, and even before the prime minister announced plans for a Commission of Inquiry (COI), a committee was formed where deputy permanent secretaries were selected to serve as mediators. However, this turned out to be unsuccessful, especially since the association mounted pressure to have the issues addressed.
In commenting on the breakdown of order and indiscipline within the fire service, the minister said the issue stems from both sides – management and the association. He also pointed to the allegations made by the SLFSA where they accused the fire chief of locking them out of their office, preventing them from holding elections, and meeting with the Government Negotiating Team GNT to conduct wage talks.
Callers of the programme had mixed views on the issue, while some agree with the move taken by the SLFSA for strike action; others believed that they are out to shut down critical services in the country.
One caller also blamed government for the issue at hand, stating that they have a “reactive” rather than a “proactive” approach to certain situations. The caller believed that the government allowed the issues to fester for too long and has caused it to escalate to a point where they have no control over it.
Another caller however dismissed those comments and said that the firefighters on strike are basically thinking about themselves and even suggested that the government fire those on strike. The caller believed that the firefighters have a responsibility to the country, and regardless of their situation, they should not have taken such an approach.
Rather, the caller said the SLFSA could have resolved the issues they are faced with amicably and in a way that will not produce difficulties to essential services.