ROSEAU, Dominica, March 16, 2018 (CMC) – Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit said, today, that there “would be no negotiations, at any level, while workers are out on an illegal industrial action”.
He was responding to the decision by workers of the Dominica Air and Sea Port Authority (DASPA) to embark upon industry action, in support of the Dominica Public Service Union (DPSU) that claimed the negotiations for a new salary agreement was taking too long.
“Let me make it very clear to the DAPSA workers. DASPA shall not negotiate with a gun to its head. There shall be no negotiations at any level while workers are on an illegal industrial action. This country has not been collecting major taxes since the passage of Hurricane Maria (last September), some of these very same workers, who are agitating, have taken full advantage of the duty-free concessions,” Skerrit said.
He told reporters “how can anyone expect there to be salary negotiations, of any kind, with the country’s tax revenues dramatically affected”.
DPSU general secretary, Thomas Letang, said the workers met, yesterday, to discuss the situation, adding “we met to discuss the status of salary negotiations”.
“We are negotiating for the period 2014-16 and our proposal was with the authorities since 7th of September 2016. We have had only two meetings…and we have not been making much progress,” he said on the state-owned DBS radio.
“We believe, by now, salary negotiations should have concluded and we should now be engaged in negotiating for the period of January of last year to December of next year,” he added.
Letang said that the union believes “not enough importance is being placed on the issue of salary negotiations”.
“The employees are very, very, interested in this matter being settled — and settled very, very, quickly,” Letang said.
Dominica is recovering from the passage of Hurricane Maria, last September, that killed several people and left millions of dollars in damages.
Skerrit warned that there were options available to his administration going forward.
“It is either the country reinstates all taxes and then consideration of salary increase, or we extend aspects of the tax break, so as to allow more people to get their lives regularised, and we hold, on salary negotiations, for a few more months.”
“Where is the country supposed to find salary increases when no taxes are being collected and hundreds of private sector workers have lost their jobs? This is very selfish and self-serving of DAPSA workers,” Skerrit said, adding that the call for salary increases come at a time when the health, agriculture and education sectors were under strain, as a result of the passage of the category 5 storm.
“You want salary increase at a time when people are asking us to renew the duty-free concessions. Where is the government or DASPA supposed to get the money you are asking for? You want salary increase when tourist vendors have not earned a dollar for the season? You want salary increase when every single Dominican raising questions about the efficiency, or lack thereof, at the port, in clearing their goods to re-start their businesses, fix their homes and …”
Skerrit said the revenue from the ports have declined by 30 percent since the hurricane and had been using insurance pay-outs to meet salaries.
“Is the DAPSA staff aware that DAPSA suffered US$51 million of loses and damages as a result of Hurricane Maria. Who really is behind this industrial action? I hope it is not who I suspect it is,” Skerrit told reporters, adding “I hope the workers are not, once again, being used like puppets in a silly, selfish game.”
“DASPA shall hold discussions when people are back to work and when people are prepared to discuss their concerns and other concerns, in a mutually respectful and civil manner. Until such time, DASPA will not hold discussions with people on strike and this is a very firm position of DASPA and the government,” he added.