Published On: Mon, Jan 7th, 2013

TUF backlash – did you know?

Following the precedent set in 2009 to award the Trade Union Federation (TUF) with a 14 percent wage increase by a government less empathetic to their liberal creed, who would have expected TUF to be embroiled with a labour government that is ideologically suited to their objectives?

In 2009, TUF, with support from their labour party, refused to give in during wage negotiations. Their acolytes were out in full force, their cries were loud and furious, and their public protest was colourful and militant. Back then, it was a fight against poverty and lifting the middle class -- so we were “led” to believe. Who cared about assisting to have a vibrant economy or what the IMF had to say?

When all was said and done, it was clear for all to see that this was a political stunt, and now, it’s no different, given all the new political appointees and a pending 30 percent salary increase for ministers, when the dust settles?

In 2009, everyone witnessed the political feast that followed. Some observers gathered the courage to say that the 14 percent salary increase for public servants would benefit the entire economy.

Others championed their new found fame at skillful negotiation as a template that would provide a better living wage and pension entitlements. While trained and balanced minds compared the 14 percent salary increases to economic malfeasance.

Meanwhile, the labour orchestra in opposition and their TUF ideologists would not listen. Actually, their joint venture was very appropriate. Now, having walked hand in hand on the road to Damascus to reinstate their labour government, the emperors have lost their clothes.

And now that the truth has come to light, TUF commandos are left with humble pie -- finding it disrespectful and embarrassing by their labour government to work-out a better living wage, pension entitlements, job security and equality.

Oh, what a divergence in three years? And even more stunning is what has transpired from winning an election just twelve months ago to stalled negotiations with the foot soldiers. In addition, the failure of the loyalists to come up with progressive ideas that can define Saint Lucia, rather than borrowing un-payable debt to administer an economic decline?

So knowing that it will take a collective approach to solve TUF stalled wage negotiations and to have a vibrant and functioning economy, permit me to share with you a discourse with fellow associates.

“The challenge should not be on cutting the ‘number’ of workers but preferably it should be on reducing the cost of the public wage bill. As a result, the number of employees affected may be less than the first version. In addition, the mavens must ask themselves three questions, in the process: (1) What is it that we (TUF) are doing which we should not be doing? You get rid of these. (2)What is it that we (TUF) are doing that we can do better? In that case you increase efficiency and productivity and (3), what is it that we (TUF) should be doing and were are not doing? This is where innovation comes in. You cannot pull a country out of economic despair without innovation. This will lead to an expansion of the economy by increasing the number of industries which the country is currently relying on. As a result, there will be more space to allow the excess fat in the civil service to migrate to. Also, Saint Lucia must move quickly to initiate two things: (1) Increase tourism arrivals by attracting high-end visitors while maintaining the traditional segment and (2), increase exports of agricultural products in a world that is experiencing high food prices and food shortages in some instances. However, there is need for a kinder, gentler type of leadership which embraces all and the ‘dogs of war’ that must be placed on a leash,” said Wilson Jn Baptiste.

By then, a few things crossed my mind. There are choices and decisions to be made, whether ideological or strictly business. The private sector, government and employees will be faced with a new normal as follows: (1) Will government take legislative action to mandate a wage freeze? (2) Who will review costly programs that can be re-aligned? (3) Who will examine avenues to find savings and develop value-added services? (4) How about pay increases that hover around the core rate of inflation? (5) How about rewarding innovation and performance rather than tenure? (6) Have the unions more involved, spurring innovation and productivity? (7) The transfer of skill-sets via joint partnership to help build a stronger private sector? (8) Investment options with tax credits for the unions to get a return on behalf of their members; and (9) Revenue maximization of union assets and leverage new revenue opportunities?

But, what remains to be seen is how the choices and decisions that are inevitable will be embraced. That’s the challenge.

Another opinion read as follows: “I am well aware of the tardiness of some public servants and my first instinct would be to cut the number of people, however having worked in the public service for a short stint there are a number of things that can be done to reduce the public sector recurring expenditure and it should begin with the ministers of government and the hierarchy of the public service. A central mail sorting and distribution system, using electronic mail instead of wasting all that paper, a well managed vehicle pool, maintenance of furniture and equipment by skilled persons and not throw away desk and chairs each year and purchase more,” says Catherine Sealys.

Obviously, I don’t expect TUF and the government to listen, because neither of the persons’ opinions here are colour blind to red ideology, big government and the creation of a welfare state.

I just would like to see a Saint Lucia that has equal prospects, a government that benefits all Saint Lucians and made-up of experience personal and bureaucrats, and elected servants (politicians) that have practical experience in the business world, both locally and internationally.

Melanius Alphonse is a management and development consultant. He is an advocate for community development, social justice, economic freedom and equality; the Lucian People’s Movement (LPM) critic on youth initiative, infrastructure, economic and business development. He can be reached at malphonse@rogers.com

In photo: Julian MonrosePresident of the Trade Union Federation of St. Lucia, (T.U.F)

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