An Open response to government of St Lucia: Part 2
29th May, 2020
Hon. Allen Chastanet
Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, Economic Growth, Job Creation, External Affairs & the Public Service
Office of the Prime Minister, Graeham Louisy Building Waterfront
Castries, St. Lucia
Dear Honourable Prime Minister,
As promised, the St. Lucia Trade Union Federation, which takes pride in not reneging on its word, is pleased to send you the promised Part 2 of its response to your open letter of 21st May, 2020. The objective of this part of the Federation’s response is to deal with Government‘s actual proposal; a matter that we thought had been laid to rest by the Federation’s letter of 5th May, 2020 after seven (7) lengthy meetings over a period of five (5) weeks.
Sir, from the initial virtual meeting of 2nd April, 2020 Public Sector Unions expressed their understanding of the impact of COVID-19 and without being prompted, the Unions offered Government a deferment of the implementation of the 1% salary increase due April 1st, 2020 for a period of six months in the first instance. This is a positive example that Government Ministers have pronounced that they have no intention of following.
It appears, Honourable Prime Minister, our exhortations to Government to reconsider its proposal because of the potential damaging effect, did not make an impact on Government’s clear determination to coerce the Unions into accepting its proposal. The Unions have reiterated several times that the proposal actually represents a 50% reduction in the cash that Public Servants need to carry out their obligations for the period. In addition, forcing Public Servants to invest in the Employer’s bonds against their will represents a cut in their salary for that period.
Public Sector Unions find the Government’s request unacceptable because of the debilitating effect it will have on individuals, families and the economy of the country.
Honourable Prime Minister, in terms of the effects on individuals and their households, let us assist you in understanding the possible impact. If we were to take a Grade 8 salary as an example this is what the picture looks like for some individuals and households.
The Net Salary for the Grade 8 individual would be as follows:
|Gross pay||– $3,335.51|
|NIC||– ($ 166.78)|
|PAYE (Tax)||– ($ 203.64)|
|Net pay||– $2,965.09|
If we consider on average the basic spending for a household of a parent and one child is:
Food – $ 700.00
Housing – $ 750.00
Insurance – $ 247.88 (Group medical plan)
Transportation – $ 120.00 (assuming the Public Servant does not live very far from work and school) Loan/hire purchase – $ 350.00 (financial institution/furniture stores)
Phone – $ 95.00 (plan)
Water – $ 75.00
Electricity – $140.00
Cable – $125.00
Internet – $ 90.00
Cooking gas – $ 30.00
Total monthly commitments = $2,722.88
The above scenario does not include a situation where the child is at a day care/preschool.
If we were to consider Government’s proposal favourably, it would mean that the Public Servant would only receive $1,482.55 in cash. This amount would only cover the housing and food expenses. At the end of the three (3) months period, the public servant would be indebted as follows;
Insurance – $247.88 x 3 = $743.64
Phone – $ 95.00 x 3 = $285.00
Water – $ 70.00 x 3 = $210.00
Electricity – $140.00 x 3 = $420.00
Cable – $125.00 x 3 = $ 375.00
Internet – $ 90.00 x 3 = $ 270.00
Household loan – $350.00 x 3 =$1,050.00
Total debt = $3,353.64
The results of which will be insurance policies lapsed, utilities cut and household item (s) repossessed. Yet the Public Servant would have to wait one year to cash the bonds. It is even more improper because after all that suffering/inconvenience the bonds will yield interest of 3% ($2,965.09/2) x 3 x 0.03) = $133.43, barely enough to pay for a WASCO reconnection of $100.00 + $12.50 (VAT) = $112.50.
When we consider that censuses and other surveys indicate that the majority of households are headed by women and our Public Service is predominantly female we can very well anticipate the damaging impact this is going to have on households.
Sir, apart from the economic aspect of such an action one must also look at the psycho-social impacts. Can we as a society afford to have a public service where people are suicidal because of the difficulties implementation of government’s proposal will impose on them? Can we, for example, put a child through having a frustrated parent at home and then having to face a teacher who is hanging by a thread in school? Would we be able to have confidence in our medical practitioners when their preoccupation becomes one of their own survival? Can we feel secure when the protective services are fighting just to survive? Can we expect good service from civil servants who are totally consumed with trying to administer their personal affairs?
Mr. Prime Minister, we implore you and your Government to ponder the question: What will it profit the Nation if the government implements all infrastructural projects and suffer the loss of the dignity, sanity, wellbeing and life of its Public Servants?
Sir, it is the answers to these questions that cause the Federation to have difficulty with the Government’s proposal which goes beyond just the issue of economics. We are therefore saying that while engineering as a field of study has no conscience, we expect those who use engineering principles to have a conscience; law has no conscience but we expect lawmakers and legal practitioners to have a conscience; medicine has no conscience but we expect those who practice medicine to have a conscience; and yes Sir, economics has no conscience but those who administer the economy and apply economic theory should have a conscience.
Prime Minister, we note your desire to weigh your legal options since Public Sector Unions find it unconscionable to accept Government’s proposal. Again, we respectfully remind Government that workers have options that they can consider also should that become necessary. We assure Government, with great sincerity, that no condition will prevent workers from standing for what is right. Despite barriers we will find a way because we believe that in standing for good over what is wrong ‘God will make a way where there seems to be no way’. We know that “An organized, united, conscious and determined people can never be defeated”.
Sir, the Trade Union Federation urges Government to consider the foregoing and in weighing its options to avoid bringing unnecessary hardship upon Public Servants and their families.
The Federation commits to working with Government in the best interest of St. Lucia. However, we again stress that the collaboration must not amount to a conspiracy against our individual members, their families and the economy of St. Lucia.
Julian Monrose President