How Will St. Lucia's Civil Servant Strike Turn Out?

Earlier this month, the Civil Service Association (CSA) in Saint Lucia rejected the government's offer of a 4.5% increase in salaries, along with benefits. The CSA members put forward a 9.5% increase and have threatened industrial action if their demands are not met. The various unions representing the police, nurses and teachers accepted the government's offer, even though they, along with the CSA, are part of the Trade Union Federation (TUF). Just about a week ago, the CSA began strike action – and the impasse has dominated online conversation in the country as netizens discuss issues like the size of the public service, St. Lucia's debt burden and the state of the trade union movement.

Patricia LaForce criticized the public servants who have been showing up at work, for their lack of solidarity:

I do not think it is right for members of a union to not go on strike when there is a legal strike. You cannot remain a member of the union and cross the picket line. My work is important to me but so is the communal responsibility as a member of a trade union; I expect support from my trade union and so I feel it as a duty to provide them with the support through this strike.

Nyla Mondesir, on the other hand, felt that individuals should make their own choices:

Not every union member stands in solidarity with the union. It is also their right to not strike if they don't support the reason for it.

Julian Williams countered that some who refuse to take part in the strike would also be beneficiaries of the action:

Patricia, what about that. You are a member of a union that is demanding a 9% wage increase and its assumed that you also need or deserve a 9% wage increase. Part of the legal bargaining process is a resort to strike action to strengthen the union demands for that wage increase. You didn't attend union meeting[s] and didn't vote for strike action that will lead to an increase. Therefore you don't have to strike because you did not vote for strike action. If the wage increase is implemented, Patricia would definitely be entitled to a 9% monthly salary increase. Question: Assuming that the salary increase is implemented, would you be that sincere and subtract the 9% increase from your salary every month and return it to the treasury since you never voted to strike?

There was also a response to a government press release which included a reminder to the CSA that the government was not obligated to pay persons who did not show up for work – but Rosie Martha Gaspard wondered why the union considered this a threat and didn't just use its own funds to compensate the workers:

 Where di money gone? whereeee? I have been paying my union dues now for 20 plus years so you mean if I do not get paid by my employer the union has no money to pay me not even a cobo? that is the question to be asked now! in the event that the GOSL just decides not to pay what is going to happen?

Ruth Albert responded:

Thank you, God that I'm not a member of any union. Praise Jah!

Jadia Jn. Pierre-Emmanuel , the government press secretary, was careful not to take a position on the matter but felt it was wrong to downplay the importance of unions:

I think it is unfair to simply dismiss the union, it's (sic) role and importance because of their handling of the current impasse. There needs to be, in my mind a review of how WE do things. I am careful not to offer any opinion pieces given the current situation, but I beg you, do not lose faith in the union or any agency who's (sic) role is to protect the rights of the worker, based on the current situation.

Augustin Charles sought to the correct the perception of those who claimed it would be unprecedented for a government to withhold payment from striking workers:

 In 1979, I was a young public servant who took part in the historic 59-day strike.I didn't get any pay during the strike period and I fully understood that Gov't was under no obligation to pay. Thanks to the largesse of Allan Louisy/SLP Administration who won the elections and went in to fulfill a campaign promise to reimburse us. We welcomed it.

Peter Thomas felt that the union should have known that the government wasn't obligated to pay workers during the strike:

Any trade unionist worth his or her salt would have studied the labor code to be in a position to better counsel their membership and also to challenge the employer when elements of the code are being violated. The government has the prerogative to invoke the ‘no work no pay’ policy but hopefully prudence will be the government's watchword and decide against it. The government should not appear to be excessively punitive and send a message that a legal, though ill-advised, industrial action by a trade union must be met with a heavy hand.

He added that it may be time for the union to reconsider its position:

On the other hand, the union having overplayed it's (sic) hand, with this strike should not expect to stay away from work for an indeterminate amount of time and expect that courtesy from the government. While it would be hard for the union to capitulate at this stage they need not make a bad situation worse by foolish intransigence.

Caron Tobiere wasn't sure that the union was strong enough to force the government's hand on the issue of paying striking workers:

Historically striking workers have been paid because the union was able to negotiate that as a condition of workers returning to work. That was possible because the union was strong enough to do that …. I am not convinced that this time around the same position holds.

She continued:

When have you ever heard a union leader in St Lucia say ‘workers are on strike’ – and not have a plan in place, something that continues to galvanize workers – picketing etc; usually the phrase is ‘industrial action’. There has always been hesitancy in saying ‘strike’ because leaders are aware that once you confirm that, the ‘no work, no pay’ policy can come into play.

Amatus Edward suggested a solution:

IS THIS A GOOD COMPROMISE? Government goes ahead and award[s] the increase but amortizes the payment of the backpay over the next trienium (sic) with the first payment falling due before Christmas this year.

The strike is now entering its second week and the discussions continue.

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