By Keryn Nelson

Public servants in Saint Lucia, including teachers, customs workers, and firefighters are at their wits end they say, demanding that the Government Negotiating Team returns to bargaining table to discuss wages, benefits and working conditions.

Frustrations climaxed at a Saint Lucia Teacher’s Union (SLTU) meeting — during which hundreds of the island’s teachers were present — on Monday, March 11. Among the agenda items was wage negotiations for the period 2016-2019 which were not completed and has reportedly had little attention.

“The message we got here is that clearly teachers are frustrated with the current situation… the current collective agreement ends on March 31 and we’ve been doing everything through the Trade Union Federation to get the government negotiating team to work with us so that we can settle the negotiations and there has just been delay, delay, delay.

In terms of conditions of work, that was presented since August. [Up until] today we have not gotten a response,” said SLTU President, Julian Monrose to reporters on Monday.

The following Tuesday, several teachers throughout Saint Lucia staged industrial action, resulting in an island-wide “sick-out.” Reports on Wednesday are that many schools remained predominantly vacant.

Further, on Tuesday, March 1 – via a letter to the secretary of the Government Negotiations Team – the Civil Service Association also requested the government recommence salary and working condition negotiations no later than next week.

According to the letter, signed by CSA President Claude Paul, if the aforementioned request was not met, ‘alternative means’ of resolving their issues would be explored.The letter also followed a meeting by the members of the CSA on Monday, March 12.

Moreover, Saint Lucia’s Customs department had staged a strike on Tuesday, however recommenced work on Wednesday morning.

Also, in a letter on Tuesday issued to the Public Service Permanent Secretary, Peggy-Ann Soudatte, local Firefighters revealed their intent to undergo industrial action on Wednesday.

The letter was signed by the Chairman of the Saint Lucia Fire Service Association (FSA), Shane Felix.

It explained that the decision was arrived at during an emergency meeting on Tuesday, where it was decided that fire service units would withhold their services until the Government Negotiating Team returns to the bargaining table no later than Thursday, March 14, to discuss salaries and benefits.

“Today’s decision also took into consideration the decades-long outstanding matters confronting the Saint Lucia Fire Service (SLFS), evidenced in the [most] recent 2016 report by Local Partnerships LLP (A British Consultancy firm), which in effect concluded that ‘…the Saint Lucia Fire Service (SLFS) is at a point of crisis,’” the letter stated about the growing aggravation and low morale felt in the Saint Lucia Fire Service.

The FSA urges the immediate initiation of a taskforce to assist with resolving their grievances which they say were tabled since 1996, as seen in their documented records.

The Fire Service says they will resume their duties once a commitment has been made by the government to address their needs.