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Sunday, January 20, 2013


Now that the respective positions of the major stakeholders in the current industrial dispute between Government and public sector unions are emerging with increasing clarity and particularity, it may be the opportune time to review what looks like a looming impasse and to make broad suggestions for the way forward.

There has been plenty of “back and forth” on the issue, with new perspectives emerging every now and then; and I daresay that generally the perspectives have carried a sublime degree of sense, with the noted exception of that of a seemingly “confused” leader of opposition whose input couldn’t be plotted on any logical graph, given the context that he engineered the fiscal precipice we now have to deal with.

Initially, I was partially empathetic to the TUF; I thought Mr Monrose had a strong and logical case which defied even the magnitude of the recessionary environment we now face.

Then I heard the PM address to the nation; and initially I thought he “blew away” the TUF case with a stronger evidence-based counter-position laden with statistics and some measure of “counter-attack”.

Then came a pseudo-rebuttal from the opposition leader claiming that the PM was using scare tactics as a “strategy” against the public service unions. As I hinted earlier, I thought Mr King went at tangent that was way off.

The intervening remarks by the former president of the SLTU (now Regional Coordinator with Educational International), Virginia Poyotte made infinitesimally more sense than that of the leader of the opposition. I am of the opinion that she attempted to give a “spanking headmaster’s lesson” in industrial relation to the TUF president - her former colleague principal and president - when she “advised” him to learn to differentiate between “arrangement” and “negotiation”.

Mrs Poyotte - apparently mindful of the economic crisis which has wholly engulfed St. Lucia and showing a sublime degree of patriotism and sensitivity - summoned her maternal instincts in industrial relations and used them to scold her younger fraternal brother for lack of rationality: “You can’t negotiate for money, when there’s no money! You have to enter an arrangement, and wait until there is money to negotiate.”

But Mr Monrose in his rebuttal(s) - deliberately or otherwise - did not pay attention to Mrs Poyotte’s comments and instead went straight for the PM’s jugular, accusing him of “divide and rule” tactics, misrepresenting the facts and labelling public servants as lazy, among other things.

I must “interject” here that before Monrose rebuttal, Dr Anthony’s case seemed impenetrable; and I thought up to that point that he’d won the battle hands down at least by reclaiming the ground in public opinion; but Mr Monrose rebuttal on RCI’s “NewSpin” had me thinking through that position again.

Suffice it to say, in retrospect, neither the PM nor the TUF demonstrated the level of sensitivity expected of them. In the first place, both might be deemed culpable for either “ill-timed” or “ill-advised” positions or statements which compromised their sense of rationality. At least, intuition and discretion should have had the better of TUF and should have warned them that it was not the best time to agitate for a whopping 16% pay hike at this time, even if they thought it was tenable. Their subsequent rationalisation that the position was largely a “theoretical” overture and was meant only for negotiating purposes lacked merit and reflected a measure of “intellectual dishonesty”.

Similarly, the PM fell through the cracks and might have entered forbidden territory when his used his address to nation as a platform to level “misplaced” accusations of unproductivity against his public servants. Those could only have fanned the flames of acrimony and potentially foster industrial confrontation.

Were it not for a couple of anomalous and misplaced comments and the threat of cutbacks on pro-poor programmes, the PM’s “IMF-type” address would have earned him a high A grade!

I also believe that were it not for the reciprocally anomalous and misplaced comments by the PM and TUF president, the impending impasse and the possibility of arbitration might have been averted.

We were expecting a good faith rapprochement between the noble statesmen and their representatives; but impending referral to arbitration suggests they have failed in that respect.

Obviously, there are many lessons to learn from the scenario; but the most significant ones are perhaps the failure of our leaders to reach compromise on critical issues related to the state and the resort to court action for their resolution.

I wish to call on all the parties to put the national interest first. We shouldn’t do like Guy Joseph who was prepared to burn the national haystack to recover a needle when he was president for the NCOPT.

At this time, the public servants should consider accepting an offer – not in necessarily proportion to inflation/cost of living demands but - in proportion to the national interest; and if “0-0-0 + $1000.00” or any variant of it represents the best deal in the circumstances, then let’s negotiate intelligently and in good faith around it; and let’s get down to work to putting St. Lucia back on track!

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