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United Workers Party (UWP) Leader Allen Chastanet has said he is pleased with the Saint Lucia Labour Party (SLP) Administration’s decision to install a Government Negotiating Team (GNT) to meet with unions on the proposed five percent wage cut for the public sector.
Chastanet and other opposition members have openly opposed the manner in which they say government has handled the proposed cut by first presenting it to parliament and later holding consultations with unions.
Speaking to St. Lucia News Online (SNO) today, June 24, Chastanet said he is “very happy that the government has now conceded and has seen the error” in its ways and has now agreed to go through the GNT, which he believes is the prescribed method for negotiations.
While speaking to other media on Monday, Chastanet had mentioned a “rumour” that the pay cuts were to come as soon as July month-end, but in a statement from the Office of the Prime Minister on June 24, Chastanet and President of the Civil Service Association (CSA) Mary Isaac, who also made the suggestion in the news, were asked to withdraw their comments as they were deemed “misleading” to the public. According to the statement, government has not taken any decision to institute the cuts in July or at any date for that matter.
“Currently, the government is seeking to engage public sector unions, civil society and members of the public to inform the nation of the economic situation, what has been done to address the fiscal deficit and the options available to deal with this untenable situation,” government’s statement reads.
In responding to the government’s call to withdraw his comments on the alleged rumours, Chastanet told SNO, “My comments were made and I said that I’d heard a rumor – like a lot of other people – that in fact that the government was going to be imposing the pay cut at the end of the month of July. Now this is the same government that had indicated that there was going to be no pay cut. In fact, two weeks before two ministers came out and categorically said that there were just rumours that were going out. And lo and behold when we arrived in parliament to find out … they were in fact legislating the pay cuts which they were in denial about.”
“… So this is a government that is accustomed to lying and giving people wrong information so. So when you hear a rumour, unfortunately these days you have to take it seriously,” he further stated.
The UWP leader further stated that he believes that government is “completely out of line” to ask public servants – “a group that had already taken a cut” through the removal of subsidies on basic commodities such as rice, flour and sugar, to undergo a salary reduction at this juncture. He said government’s addition of the Value Added Tax in 2012, an increase in the price of water, and tax on medicine do not help the situation either.
“But as I said I am very happy to see that the government has now changed course and has agreed to go through the prescribed measure and we’re much more comfortable with that, but we still believe that the government has to present a much more holistic plan,” he reiterated, while questioning whether there are other measures to be taken to reduce the $76 million budget deficit.
“The five percent pay cut for civil service will only reduce costs by 18 million. They in fact have a $75 million gap to resolve. So in fact there is still a $53 million left to find. Where is that money going to come from and that is the concern that many people have – that the government is now trying to do this thing on a piecemeal basis,” he said.
Moreover, in defending his party’s performance while in government, Chastanet said that the UWP had inherited mounts of debt from the SLP when it came into power.
“…Programmes that they did in order to build the police stations and fire stations, the payments only started when we came into office and that was one of the significant contributors to the increase in recurrent expenditure. While we were in office, and we had the worst financial crisis and we had the worst natural disasters taking place in this country,” he said.