Testing the National Pulse

Image: HUNDREDS of supporters joined the St. Lucia Labour Party (SLP) in its first protest march against the Allen Chastanet government yesterday.

Thousands of Saint Lucians on Sunday joined the protest march organized by the Saint Lucia Labour Party (SLP).

Just days ahead, three official spokespersons at the Office of the Prime Minister dismissed it as a partisan undertaking aimed at giving the country a bad reputation abroad. The planned march was, however, just one of several issues that posed headaches for the administration last week, starting with a sick-out by Customs Officers on Thursday and strike notices by the bodies representing the nation’s doctors and electricity workers.

Even as the marchers marched on Sunday, another step had been taken, earlier in the day, to stay the government’s hand on a demolition project under way at the old ‘Royal Gaol’. The Saint Lucia National Trust (SLNT), citing the historic importance of the dilapidated structure that housed ‘Her Majesty’s Prison’, had successfully applied to the High Court for an injunction to stop its demolition, which was already under way, until such time as the issues between it and the Government regarding the preservation of things historic could be resolved.

The government has assured that it has plans in place to cushion the effects of any industrial action by the Customs officers.

The St. Lucia Electricity Services Limited (LUCELEC) has moved to the courts to seek to nullify an arbitrators ruling in the union’s favour and has submitted to the Minister of Labour for mediation the issue of re-grading which is a separate issue. Lucelec is counter-claiming that it is the union that’s not interested in an amicable solution.

The customs officers have not gone on strike, but their sickout was already starting to bite on Thursday and Friday, with brokers and related entities apologizing to customers about their inability to deliver services as per norm.

It can only be hoped that amicable solutions can be arrived at to spare the populace any interruptions in services offered by LUCELEC and to avoid the undoubtedly serious and cumulative consequences of any strike by customs officers, both categorized officially as ‘Essential Services’.

The biggest fear of all, however, is a strike by doctors. The Saint Lucia Medical and Dental Association (SLMDA) may have sought to assure that any related surgical action on the industrial front will not result in infliction of any harm on patients at Saint Jude Hospital. We are at a loss to understand how the withdrawal of the labour of the members of the Medical and Dental Association will not affect the patients at St. Jude, but perhaps the Hippocratic Oath has been rewritten.

As has been clearly demonstrated, the politics underlying all the issues at play is an inescapable factor that can and will affect the course of events. Unfortunately too, the tone and content of the contending forces do not allow for high hopes for early solutions, as crises of confidence clearly exist across the board.

The St. Lucia Civil Service Association (CSA) represents the Customs officers and the electricity workers involved. Nurses at Victoria Hospital are still uncertain about their future after transition to the OKEU Hospital. There’s still lots of disquiet in the public service.

Is the country on the verge of another industrial showdown reminiscent of that which led to the passage of the Essential Services Act of 1976? No, far from that.

But events this week will surely reveal the level of maturity of the men and women in whose hands will lie the immediate future of the nation’s industrial climate, the future of national health institutions and responsibility for addressing all the factors that led to all the protests, industrial and court actions.

With threats of more of the same, the sides will eventually have to come to the table, hopefully to find solutions instead of protracting problems.

If solace is to be found in this, our summer of discontent, it is that mid-term of any government usually finds an opposition girding its loins for the inevitable coming battles.

The national pulse is being tested. The nation holds its breath…

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