Amid speculation that government could move to retrench a large number of public servants or cut salaries across the board by five percent, Trade Unionist and President of the Saint Lucia Teachers’ Union (SLTU) Julian Monrose said that retrenchment is no longer an option for government, but a possible salary cut of five percent is still possible.
However, Monrose told Saint Lucia News Online (SNO) during an exclusive interview today, Tuesday, May, 6 that trade unionists are prepared to defend the cause of workers, to ensure that this is not the only possible avenue to correct the economic crisis being experienced.
The SLTU president told SNO that a recent meeting with government and trade unions was basically to inform trade union leaders about the state of the economy and government finances.
SNO understands that majority of the meeting saw a presentation from the Ministry of Economic Affairs, in which officials showed the comparative figures over the years reflecting the economy’s performance, government’s spending and problems the government now faces with raising monies for loans.
“We asked a lot of questions to clarify some of the economic issues,” Monrose said.
He clarified that the meeting was not a decision-making one, rather it was more of information sharing. The SLTU, among all the other trade unions were in attendance, with the exception of the Civil Service Association (CSA).
Asked whether he believes that from the presentation, government has no other alternative but to move towards cutting salaries, Monrose said: “What we know for sure is that the government is looking to fill a gap of $76 million. They are saying that one of the scenarios could be a five per cent and they have indicated that they are in deficit of $205 million.”
Monrose, however, maintains that trade unions and government need to sit and discuss the country’s spending and to look at areas that government can tighten its belt. He believes that there other things government can do to realise the level of efficiency that is needed to improve the economic situation of the island. Further, Monrose said as trade unionists they are sensitive to the plight of the people and if they are to accept a five percent cut, then someone would need to explain to the people how they are to go about their daily lives, with a cut. He said while some may survive it, others may not.
The SLTU head said, “We cannot resolve government’s problems by creating problems for individuals. So what we need to do is see how we can look at all possible solutions or means by which we can help government …We have to sit with government and look at their operations…and we have done it before and we need to sit with them and say, but look is it absolutely necessary to be spending here and there and why don’t you take some from here and there and pay workers … before a decision is made.”
Monrose told SNO that the union will protect the best interest of its members. He said while the SLTU understands that there will be external factors that may impact its ability to do so, the union is also cognisant of the fact that teachers are fighting hard to survive and try very hard to make ends meet.
“And we are going to make every effort to ensure that we work with government to protect teachers’ salaries and their jobs,” Monrose added.
Further, the SLTU president said if it comes to a point where trade unions believe that there is a measure of sacrifice that members can make, then his union is going to honest with members and suggest to them what are the options.
“At the end of the day it is going to be them who will make the decision because we have a very democratic organisation. Whatever decision the general membership makes, I assure you the president and executive will uphold that decision,” he asserted.
“I am sure the government is a little nervous and they may want this matter resolved in a month or so … I think that has been expressed, and we understand that, but we must not rush it. We must ensure that whatever is done to assist government must not hurt people, and also we don’t take a measure to hurt the economy further, which will cause government to come back to us to do further sacrifices,” he explained.
The next meeting between trade unions and government is scheduled to take place on Friday.