CASTRIES, St. Lucia, Mar 17, CMC – The St. Lucia government, describing the ongoing strike action by firefighters here as illegal, said “meaningful” negotiations would only begin when the workers immediately report back to work.
Labour Minister Stephenson King, in a March 15 letter to the St. Lucia Fire Service Association (SLFSA), said that the industrial action “goes contrary to the law as well as the grievance procedure which is prescribed in article 38(2) of the existing Collective Agreement between the government of Saint Lucia and the Saint Lucia Fire Service Association which was executed on the 23rd day of September 2015”.
The SLFSA, which met with King last Thursday to discuss the issue, said its members would stay away from their jobs after the union complained that they were not satisfied with the outcome of the meeting.
“It looks as though we will be home for the weekend because we have not received anything tangible from the authorities,” SLFSA president Shane Felix said.
But in the letter, which was also copied to the labour commissioner, King, a former prime minister, urged the union to get its members back on the job.
“It is only then will we be able to meaningfully proceed with negotiations without further risk of compromise to public health, safety and security,” King wrote.
In the letter, King recalled he had reiterated the commitment of the government to “timely settlement” of the outstanding matters, but that would be predicated upon the commitment of all parties to meaningfully engage each other in good faith.
Felix said last week that while the union was commending King for his “humble approach” to the talks, nothing had changed.
“We were not satisfied with the outcome of the meeting. As we have said to the minister ‘We’ve been there before. We’ve received commitments in writing but nothing has happened,’” Felix said.
He said that the two sides discussed a number of issues that the firefighters say have been outstanding for a very long time, including firefighters who are consistently on contract. He said contractual employees have difficulty obtaining bank loans.
The SLFSA said that it is schedule to meet on Monday with the Government Negotiating Team to discuss working conditions and fringe benefits.