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Tuesday, February 26, 2013


Yes! Negotiation is a game with aims; but messing around with the education of our nation’s future in the name of negotiation is absolutely no game - and it is in this “frame of reference” that I have penned this article – rather “angrily” today.

My tender sensibilities were battered when I saw “helpless and innocent kids” with satchels on their backs walking back home in the full heat of the mid-morning sun, forfeiting their education in the name of a “mystery illness” affecting their teachers. I said, “Something must be wrong here” and “Someone must be blamed!” for this sorry state of affairs.

But “what is wrong?” and “who should be blamed?” are not easy questions to answer. The teachers will blame the authorities and vice versa the authorities will blame the teachers and the cycle will continue. The never-ending back-and-forth-pendulum-type of irrational, frivolous behaviour that undermines our pursuit of excellence in the education and other sectors will persist.

If I may stick a pin here, my specific advice to “educators” is not only endeavor to impart the age-old virtues of honesty and integrity in their students; but equally to “live it” through practice. Full stop!

The nation is obviously in a state of quandary and rapidly approaching a crisis point! At this “crossroad” moment in our history, it is apparent that the need sound and honest and steady leadership at all levels in the hierarchy to avert a potential disaster has emerged; and the action of the TUF has been left wanting in that regard! The TUF’s industrial action has been a counter-instance to that pursuit of that type of leadership!
Contrary to decisions taken at two separate general meetings convened by the SLTU and CSA, the hierarchy of the said unions deny ever taking industrial action against the state. Is that acceptable leadership? Instead, the TUF claim that they have merely been inflicted by a wave of “public service-specific” mystery illness which has rendered them incapable of reporting to work. The epidemic, which surfaced on Thursday February 21, will continue until payday (Tuesday, February 26, 2013).

The illogic in the Unions argument is stark and seems to have sparked a ripple effect across the land – one arguably that is in proportion to the magnitude of their mystery illness. At one extreme end, some pundits seem to believe that the national epidemic is an invention to justify an extended independence holiday over a six-day period at the expense of taxpayers, suggesting the nature of the epidemic may be rooted in an allergic reaction to productivity. At the other extreme end, some believe that the action is not fully justified but extremely necessary to bring the GNT to its senses.

Whatever the case may be and by the time the mystery epidemic disappears into thin air at midnight tonight, the resultant cost implications to the state will be enormous, costing taxpayers an irrecoverable loss in the order of the magnitude of millions of dollars. What’s even sorrier will be the unquantifiable loss of instructional time that this mystery illness has caused, and especially during a period when we have insurmountable problems in mathematics at all levels of education, from MST to CXC.

It is therefore incumbent on those entrusted with the responsibility to manage the affairs of state to address two major public concerns: firstly, how are we going to mitigate against the losses to the taxpayer and secondly, how are going to make up for the loss of instructional time.

Indeed, the past few days have sunk the ship of state into a black hole of unnecessary conflict which was clearly avoidable. Why have our public servants in the midst of ongoing competitive and healthy negotiations where there is seemingly no impasse (save for “a race against a time frame”) taken that premature action?

At the beginning of the negotiation period, they sought a highly unrealistic and exorbitant raise of 15%, claiming the implementation of VAT and the increased cost of living as the bases for their request. Closer to the end of the period, they drastically shaved their request down to 6%.

Apparently, the TUF seem to have got both the logic of the “mystery epidemic” and “math of the increase” totally wrong.  Despite having voted to take industrial action under the veil of mystery illness, they cowardly persisted with the argument that their action was on medical and not industrial ground. It’s a “logic” that is untenable and many of us are uncomfortable with. We would have preferred the unions to have come out and declare with honesty that they were taking strong industrial action to protest (among other things) the pace of the negotiations and the quantum of the offer by the GNT.

Many of us argue that if they had taken that position, they would have at least been true to themselves and to the spirit of the resolution they passed at their general meetings to proceed on “sick-out”. Perhaps, they would have also received more empathy from parents and the wider public.

Secondly, the TUF also got their Math blatantly wrong. A 15% VAT does not translate to a 15% increase in the cost of living. A quick “calculus” reveals that a 5% increase (which is what increase sought is now approaching) is more in keeping with a 15% VAT. The 66% WASCO impending tariff increase is a statistically insignificant variable in the scheme of things. The monthly salaries of TUFF members is estimated to range from $8000 to $1500, with a mean salary of about $3500; if the monthly average water bill of a public servant is less than $100, then the projected tariff increase for water will translate to only a small fraction of a percent of the mean salary. Hence, the net impact of VAT and increase in the water tariff will only be in the range of a 5%.

Given the figures above, then why would the TUF initially request an exorbitant 15% and not 6%? Also, why would they seek all of those exorbitant “executive benefits” like duty-free on cars for themselves, an amendment to the pension structure to qualify them for huge gratuities etc? Why would the TUF seek a pound of flesh from an economy on its deathbed? Why would TUF want to impose that crushing burden of a massive salary increase on the taxpayers? And even most importantly, why have they not responded to the PM’s offer of independent arbitration?

Haven’t the GNT sufficiently explained the issues and the cost-prohibitive implications to the TUF? Why haven’t the PM come to the rescue?

Let’s hope that the PM will come to the rescue of the nation on those issues when he addresses us on Wednesday night and bring this protracted negotiations to a satisfactory conclusion and restore St. Lucia on a path to industrial peace.

Let’s hope also that he will be cautiously rational and not boldly confrontational as he was the first time. He should use the address not only to clearly explain the key and thorny issues on the table that may have precipitated the industrial action by the public servants (and how he plans to resolve them) but also to bring a message of hope and goodwill to nation. In other words, he should not come to airwaves like the Merchant of Venice with “knife and bowl in hand” seeking his own pound of flesh from the hierarchy of the TUF as a cure for the mystery illness. I’m sure the Doctor knows much, much better!

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