St Lucia government’s talks with public sector expected to come to a head this week
Ongoing talks between public service unions and government on ways to resolve the country’s fiscal crisis are expected to come to a head this week when cabinet convenes the fourth round of negotiations.
At the centre of the talks is a proposal by government for a 5 percent reduction in wages, which at least three of the six public service unions have rejected.
Apart from the wage reduction, government has so far brought no other firm proposal to the table, but union officials have been told that this will be done when the parties meet again Thursday.
The largest union in the group, the Civil Service Association (CSA) which has so far boycotted the talks, says it could attend the next meeting if copies of the proposals are submitted well ahead of the meeting.
However CSA President Mary Issac Friday expressed disappointment that after making an early request for the documents, up to the end of the work day they had not heard from government.
“If we are not furnished with the proposals in the next day or two then we will not attend the talks as there would not have been sufficient time to consult at the level of the executive and then with the general membership,” she said.
The CSA has been the only trade union movement on the island that was not present for the past meetings with government officials, called to discuss the fiscal situation on the island.
Isaac had said the move to boycott these meeting was made based on the fact that government has already decided on a five percent cut in public servants’ salaries.
Isaac noted that figures in this year’s estimates and expenditure shows that a cut in public servants’ salaries would have taken effect in May. However she said that the salaries for the month were not interfered with.
Prime Minister Anthony has already indicated that the government is faced with increase spending for wages and salaries in the public service sector.
During 2012/2013 the bill for wages and salary in the public sector stood at EC$449 million. This figure is expected to increase to over EC$450 million, this year.
He said that outstanding increase in wages and salaries for the public sector, brought about through wage negotiations stands at approximately EC$459 million and that serious attention must be paid to that situation.
“The journey has started … we have done well …we must continue … fiscal discipline is producing results … it requires a change and we have to complete this journey of taking it down,” Anthony said, adding that the goal of his administration this fiscal year is to reduce expenditure by 17.4 percent
During a meeting with media practitioners last month, government shared some of the scenarios they are considering to curb public debt since an increase by 1.5 percent over the past two years.
Statistics presented indicated that the deficit will rise without a wage adjustment. However, from recent reports government is now looking to reduce spending, while side-lining the option of cutting public servant salaries.
Government has proposed applying Value Added Tax (VAT) on electricity and water. However, that proposal has been met with many criticisms. It is reported that government could scale in $40 million from VAT on electricity alone.
It is unclear whether this option is still on the table or government plans to present new proposals to cut government spending, thereby reducing the current deficit.