CASTRIES, St Lucia, CMC – A strike by pubic servants entered a second week Tuesday with the Trade Union Federation (TUF) threatening to intensify action if the Stephenson King administration failed to put a fresh offer on the table in a deepening row over pay.
?We are giving government up to the end of Tuesday to state their position on the new proposal, failing which we will take our protest action to another level on Wednesday,? TUF President Julian Monrose said as he declared that the workers were willing to accept an offer made to them during negotiations with an independent group representing members of the St Lucia Christian Council negotiating an end to the impasse.
?But we do remain optimistic that an end to the impasse could come by the end of the day should government immediately agree to the terms articulated at the week end meeting with representatives of the Christian Council,? he added.
Earlier in the day, workers were forced to hastily evacuate the Government Headquarters after a bomb scare as the St Lucia Teachers? Union picketed the complex that houses the Office of the Prime Minister. A bomb scare also disrupted operations at the nearby Ministry of Education.
Otherwise, it was a relatively peaceful day of protest.
The TUF is demanding payment of a promised 7.5 per cent salary increase but the government insists it can only afford to pay 3.5 per cent upfront due to the current economic downturn. The workers have been promised the remaining 4 per cent in April next year but the union is adamant that it will settle for nothing less than 4.5 per cent.
Earlier, Prime Minister Stephenson King released a statement in which he thanked public sector workers who turned up for duty despite the ongoing industrial action.
He lauded the workers for their patience and understanding of the issue, adding that they had placed national interest above self interest and assured workers of their safety, in light of the warning from the Federation that it will intensify its protest by picketing government buildings.
?The first obligation of this government will be to guarantee the safety of its citizens and we will spare no effort to achieve this,? King assured.
Meanwhile, the opposition St Lucia Labour Party (SLP) denounced the arrival of fire officers from Antigua, Grenada and St Vincent, who were brought in to operate fire service equipment at the Hewannorra International Airport over the weekend.
?The St Lucia Labour Party condemns the involvement of fire service personnel from these states in the industrial affairs of St Lucia,? the statement noted.
The SLP?s leader, Leader Kenny Anthony said it was as unprecedented for regional governments to become involved in an industrial dispute in a member state of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS).
?This is especially distasteful when some of the governments of these states are closely associated with trade unions in their own backyards,? he said, pointing out that the industrial action by public officers has been peaceful with no threat to public order.
?The involvement of fire personnel of these states in the industrial affairs of St Lucia is unacceptable and sets a dangerous precedent for the region,? he noted, adding that the Regional Security System (RSS) was not established to become involved in industrial disputes in member states.
In a statement issued over the weekend, the government said the overseas fire personnel were called upon specifically to man the island?s two airports, which were affected by the strike action.