by A. T. Freeman
The Trade Union Federation (TUF) of St Lucia has made it clear that it is opposed to the efforts of the St Lucian government to make public sector workers bear the cost of the economic crisis that has gripped the island in the wake of Covid 19.
On Friday 21 May. Prime Minister Allen Chastenet, issued an open letter to the TUF and its 9 affiliate members, including the National Workers’ Union, Teachers Union, Nurses Association, Vieux Fort General & Dock Workers’ Union and the Fire Service Association among others, in which he demanded that they accept, by the following Monday morning, the government’s proposal that they receive part of their pay in government bonds. In the open letter, which was published locally, the government proposed that 56% of the public sector workers accept receiving 50% of their salary for the months of June, July and August in the form of government bonds which would be redeemable after a year. Prime Minister Chastenet stated that this measure would enable the government to cover the EC$50 million shortfall in its budget brought about by the Covid 19 crisis. Since this proposal had already been rejected by the TUF on the 5 May, following negotiations between the government and the unions which lasted over 5 weeks, the Prime Minister threatened that continued refusal on the part of the workers and their unions to accept the proposals would lead the government to, “examine its legal options” in order to achieve its goals.
The TUF responded to the government’s unprecedented open letter and threat with their own open letter on 25 May. In this, they criticised the government for attempting to incite the public against the workers and their unions in the hope that this intimidation tactic would cause the unions to submit to the government’s demands. They asked the Prime Minister why he had not engaged the unions through the normal negotiation channels and declared that, whatever the government’s intention, the workers and their unions were “not intimidated and will not be coerced”. The statement continued that although the unions are prepared to work constructively with the government, “such collaboration will not be to the detriment of our members, their families and the country”. Finally in the face of the legal threats from the government, the unions warned the Prime Minister that, “the workers also have options which they are prepared to weigh should the actions of government warrant such considerations”.
[Photo – Julian Monrose – President Saint Lucia Trade Union Federation]