By Caribbean News Now contributor
CASTRIES, St Lucia – In an address to the nation on Wednesday night, Saint Lucia Prime Minister Dr Kenny Anthony rejected demands by the Trade Union Federation for pay increases greater than the 4 percent increase in wages already offered by the government, coupled with agreed allowances
Prime Minister Dr Kenny Anthony
For the government, Anthony said, the option is clear: it is either wage restraint or retrenchment. On the other hand, the members of the Trade Union Federation believe that the government can meet their demands without causing undue harm to the people of Saint Lucia.
Public sector unions have demanded that the government of Saint Lucia pay salary increases, initially of 16 percent, then 12 percent, later 9.5 percent and now 6 percent with stipulated conditions.
“I do not think so. Even with the $42 million, which will have to be borrowed to meet the payments, there will have to be sacrifices by all of us, whether by way of compulsory reduction of expenditure and/or the gradual reduction of subsidies extended to the population at large,” Anthony said.
He went on to suggest that, as the parties have arrived at an impasse, the matter be resolved by arbitration and proposed that the parties appoint a three-member arbitration panel, made up of one arbitrator appointed by the Trade Union Federation, a second by the government, and a third, a chairperson, appointed jointly by the agreement of the parties.
“Once the panel is constituted, hearings could be held in full glare of the public. The government agrees, without reservation or condition, that it would be bound by the decision of the panel. I urge our unions to consider and accept this proposal to bring closure to this unhappy situation,” Anthony said.
Over the past two days, families and businesses in Saint Lucia faced disruption in their daily lives and routine. Children have not been able to attend their schools because the vast majority of their teachers foretold, four days in advance, that they would all fall ill on designated days, Monday and Tuesday of this week and so would not be at work. So too did some civil servants, thus disrupting some of the services provided by the government.
Anthony referred to what he described as a “grave” situation in the country, with an overall unemployment rate of approximately 24 percent and the unemployment rate among young people in the labour force reaching an estimated 45 percent.
To compound the situation, the fiscal deficit stands at 10.7 percent of Saint Lucia’s gross domestic product (GDP) and by the end of March the country’s debt will increase to 78 percent of GDP.
“Today, for the first time in our fiscal history since independence in 1979, the Caribbean Development Bank has included us among a list of seven countries in the Caribbean with a high and unsustainable debt,” Anthony pointed out.