Protest action by “minority” group of WASCO workers illegal, says gov’t

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Protest action by “minority” group of WASCO workers illegal, says gov’t

Statement by the Ministry of Sustainable Development, Energy, Science and Technology on Industrial Action at WASCO

November 16, 2012 — The Ministry of Sustainable Development, Energy, Science and Technology views with serious concern the ongoing industrial unrest at the Water and Sewerage Company Inc. (WASCO).

The Ministry has been made to understand that a group of workers has decided to engage in a work stoppage to demand a date for the payment of retroactive wages, consequent upon the successful conclusion of negotiations between WASCO’s management and the Labour Unions representing the workers.

It is important to note that negotiations between WASCO and the Unions have been amicably completed, with the Parties agreeing to a 10% increase in wages for all workers for the negotiated triennium 2010-2012. Given the very precarious financial state of WASCO and the present economic climate, this was a generous settlement.

The wage increase for the triennium is broken down into a 4% increase for 2010, 4% increase for 2011, and a 2% increase for 2012.  This 4-4-2 Agreement over the negotiated period is above the increase in the cost of living for the corresponding period. As a consequence of the wage settlement, there is a retroactive payment, or backpay, owed to the WASCO workers of approximately $4 million. It is our understanding that WASCO’s management, by letter dated October 8th, 2012 gave a written commitment to both Trade Unions “to do all within (its) capacity to complete the retroactive payments as efficiently as possible by year end”.

WASCO is an insolvent company, whose liabilities far exceed its assets. As a result, it is virtually impossible for the company to raise any finance for its operations, expansion or projects to improve the provision of potable water to the people of Saint Lucia.  The Company is unable to meet its expenses, which include a debt of over $12.8 million to the Saint Lucia Electricity Services (LUCELEC).

Our Government commends LUCELEC on its exemplary patience and understanding in working with WASCO and Government to reduce this liability, which grows by approximately $400,000 every month.  Currently, WASCO’s total debt stands at over $100 million and its monthly working capital deficit is approximately $600,000.

On the strength of a mandate from the Cabinet of Ministers, a special committee has worked on developing a plan to secure the long-term viability of WASCO. This involves some immediate measures to improve the Company’s balance sheet and actions to attract new investments and improve the cash flow.

The Cabinet recently approved a payment of $3.1 million to WASCO to allow for the commencement of some critical work on the John Compton Dam to address the heavy siltation at the Dam, which is compromising its ability to ensure a reliable supply of water during the upcoming 2013 dry season.

Therefore, in the current circumstances, the company is going above and beyond its means to address the concerns of the staff with respect to the new Collective Bargaining Agreement.

It should also be noted that the current action by this minority group of workers is illegal based upon the stipulations of the Essential Services provision of the Labour Act.  The timeframe for the payments of retroactive wages agreed to between WASCO’s management team and the Trade Unions is not in dispute.

We are also aware that no notice has been given to WASCO, the Labour Department or the Minister with responsibility for Labour of a grievance over the payment schedule. Therefore, it appears that some of WASCO’s workers are being led into illegal action under the provisions of the Labour Act.

The Ministry is pleased to note, however, that this action notwithstanding, the management of WASCO is continuing to work to ensure that the matter is resolved.

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