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AS I SEE THINGS: Consider govts’ ability to give increases

Brian Francis

AS I SEE THINGS: Consider govts’ ability to give increases

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The new year has only just begun but already there is mounting industrial tension in regional economies that can only leave one to wonder how all of this is eventually going to evolve.  
First, in Barbados, the powerful Barbados Workers’ Union (BWU) is at loggerheads with telecommunications provider LIME over the company’s decision to terminate the services of some of its workers.  
In response to failed calls to reverse its decision to dismiss 97 workers, the BWU has threatened an islandwide shutdown that LIME has described as grossly irresponsible at this critical juncture in the country’s economic life.
At the time of writing this column, there was no official word on further action on either side.
However, a major strike at this time would have severe implications for the economy and therefore one could only hope that good sense prevails and the relevant intervention by the Ministry of Labour results in bringing both sides back to the negotiating table so that a resolution to the ongoing dispute can be found as soon as possible.
Over in St Lucia, the government and trade unions are locked in a rather tense industrial dispute over salary increases for public officers. Based on publicly available information, the union is calling for a 15 per cent increase in wages and salaries for the next triennium.  
The government, on the other hand, according to the prime minister, has offered a lump-sum payment that would amount to roughly a three per cent increase over the period. That offer is clearly in keeping with the dire financial and economic circumstances facing the country as outlined in the prime minister’s recent address to the nation.  
Indeed, Prime Minister Kenny Anthony hit the nail on the head when he noted, in his address to St Lucians on January 6, “We do not need indecision; we need certainty in these difficult times. I believe, like every citizen, in a just wage for fair and productive labour.
“What is fair or just is always debatable because so many factors come into play in arriving at a conclusion. One thing is clear, though: in the final analysis, the payment of a wage that is deemed to be fair and just depends on the employer’s ability to pay.”
Based on all we have seen and heard over the past few years with respect to fiscal deficits, national debt, and the cost of living across the region, there is no doubt that public officers in St Lucia as well as other Caribbean countries are badly in need of a pay hike.  
But at the same time, governments can only agree to increases in wages and salaries if those increases are affordable now and in the future. Hence, the prevailing financial and economic circumstances in regional economies must be seen as the cornerstone of any salary negotiations.
In the interim, it is important for the union and St Lucia’s government to recognize that all available options must be brought to the table, whether conventional or not.
And whatever the final outcome, protecting the country’s economy should be the broader goal in mind.
• Brian M. Francis PhD is a lecturer in the Department of Economics at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus.