The purpose of last Thursday’s meetings was to update the general membership on the ongoing negotiation with the government negotiation team (GNT) on wages and benefits.
The parties had been unable to reach a settlement by February 15, which president Julian Monrose suggested was a soft and satisfactory time-frame to complete negotiations. To date, the GNT is offering 4 percent over a three-year period, which the TUF has rejected, sticking to their demand of a 9.5 percent from their previous request of 16 percent.
Outstanding issues include three years’ back-pay, pension issues and concessions on vehicles for traveling offices, and access to purchase government lands at a reduced cost to meet members housing needs. If these conditions can be met, the TUF has indicated that a final settlement between 6-7 percent would conclude to the satisfaction of members.
As a result of these meetings, the attending members were away from their designated working environment. This lead to interruptions and confusion at most of the island schools, government offices and the customs and excise departments islandwide, leaving students, business and citizens with limited to no access to government services throughout most of Thursday. Friday was a public holiday in Saint Lucia — Independence Day.
All of this is happening on the heels of increased inflation and the introduction of 15 percent VAT on October 1, 2012. Very soon the cost of public transportation is expected to increase along with a propose application from the Water and Sewage Authority (WASCO) for a 66.15 percent increase in water rates and 140.30 percent for sewer services to take effect before March 31, 2013.
The TUF activities led to a quick press release from the prime minister’s office on Thursday, saying “Business as usual — The government of Saint Lucia notes the wave of anxiety that has swept over the nation on the eve of the observance of our island’s thirty-fourth Anniversary of Independence, as a result of reports of a planned sickout by public officers. In light of the volume of calls and messages placed to the Office of the Prime Minister, expressing uncertainty about the availability of government services to the public on Monday February 25, 2013, the prime minister wishes to state that government offices will remain open for business.”
Following the TUF meetings, Monrose indicated that most members are extremely sick, upset and stressed at GNT and would not be surprised if members reported sick on Monday and Tuesday.
A follow-up meeting to update the general membership and to discuss the way forward is scheduled for Wednesday, February 27.