Letters & Opinion

A New York Letter to the Editor

In keeping with our usual practice, my family and close friends spent last Labor Day (2018) in New York eating, drinking and, as usual, talking about things in our home island St Lucia. For this special occasion we always met at my mother’s place since it was in close proximity to Eastern Parkway where the main Labor Day activities took place.

After much talk about what was, and wasn’t, happening in our fair Helen, the attention was eventually focused on the proposed projects for Vieux Fort which, by the way, is where most of us hail from; my family and I, for one, actually come from the Belle Vue community.

The conversation was particularly animated, with most of us expressing grave concern over some of the proposals enunciated by the Government for the development of the South. What was found to be particularly annoying was the fact that Vieux Fortians had no input into these plans and projects.

Indeed, we were reminded by one of those present that the practice by successive governments not to give Vieux Fortians the opportunity to have any “say” and “input” into projects that were earmarked to take place in the South dated as far back as in the time of Sir John Compton from the late sixties.

The conversation got even more heated as each of us vented our frustration with this blatant lack of respect and regard for the folks in the South. Some of us wondered aloud as to whether this situation was due to the fact that maybe no Vieux Fortian had made any significant contribution to the development of St Lucia in general, and it was thought that it might be worthwhile for us to check and find out if that was, indeed, the case and whether there were people from the South who had, in fact, contributed to St Lucia’s development and the advancement of its people.

For reasons which were particularly obvious, but which I will not mention here, I was assigned this task, and was made to promise that I would leave no stone unturned in finding out if Vieux Fortianshad not made any contribution to the development and growth of our island home.

Well after seven months of checking, investigating, probing, questioning and so on, I have completed my task, the results of which I feel compelled to share, not just with my family members, friends and associates that I will be reporting to when we meet for Labour Day this year (2019) but also with as many people as possible who might have no idea of the following facts. This is what I discovered Ms. Editor:

A Vieux Fortian was the first trade unionist in St Lucia to successfully negotiate a contract on behalf of construction workers on the island; that involved over 300 workers employed during the construction of the Halcyon Days hotel in 1968, and was followed by the negotiation of another contract for construction workers who were employed on the Hewanorra International Airport project in 1969.

A Vieux Fortian trade unionist was the first person in St Lucia to successfully negotiate a contract on behalf of Landscape workers on the island (1970).

The first person assigned in 1967, by the American Institute for Free Labor Development and the Caribbean Congress of Labor on a year’s secondment, to work with the newly formed St Lucia Trades Union Council to help it establish itself and to strengthen it role on the island was a Vieux Fortian trade Unionist.

I found out that the only person from an OECS country to work with the West Indies Central Labour Organization in the United States of America was a Vieux Fortian, representing thousands of farm workers from the West Indies in the USA on behalf of the Governments of Trinidad & Tobago, Barbados, Jamaica, St Lucia, St Vincent, Grenada, Dominica, St Kitts & Nevis and Antigua.

It was a Vieux Fortian, employed as Personnel Manager at the Halcyon Days Hotel, who first introduced a system where women who were employed to do the same work with men received the same remuneration with their male counterparts. Not many people know that up to 1971 women employed in the same category with men, in St Lucia, were paid a lower wage. This was particularly prevalent in the Agricultural Industry and the Hospitality Industry. The end to this discrimination against female workers began at the Halcyon Days Hotel when, in establishing a wage system for the 501 workers employed there, the Personnel Manager, who was from Vieux Fort, introduced a system of equal pay for female workers employed to do the same work. This practice, which resulted in tremendous economic and financial benefits to St Lucian women, and other hotels, employers and companies etc., had no choice than to eventually adopt this practice which, by then, the trade unions had quickly lashed on to and included in their contract negotiations.

It was a Vieux Fortian Personnel Manager at the Halcyon Days Hotel who first introduced paternity leave for workers on the island in 1971. This benefit allowed male workers time off with pay to be at the bedside of their spouses when they were giving birth to a child.

It was a Vieux Fortian Personnel Manager at the Halcyon Days hotel who first introduced the practice of “natural justice” at the work place in 1971 in St. Lucia. Prior to that, workers were disciplined, including dismissal from their jobs at the whims and fancy of employers without being given an opportunity to defend themselves. The introduction of the “natural justice” policy ensured that workers could not be disciplined in any way without being given an opportunity to defend themselves. This practice is now part of the St Lucia Labour Code.

A major discrimination against women employed in the hospitality Industry in St Lucia was the practice of some jobs being restricted to men only. These included positions such as bar tenders and bars supervisors. It was the Vieux Fortian Personnel Manager at the Halcyon Days hotel who appointed the first woman in St Lucia, in the person of Evelyn Maroney to the post of bar tender in a hotel in St Lucia and the first woman bars supervisor in the person of Marietta Walter, both of Vieux Fort.

That same Personnel Manager planned, organized and implemented the first ever workshop seminar on “the role of the Hotel and Tourism Industry in St Lucia”. This important training activity, which took place in 1974, was attended by departmental managers and supervisors from all the hotels on the island, and became an annual training event up to 1982. This workshop seminar was intended to give managerial and supervisory personnel in hotels proper insight into the significant role and contribution made by the hotel and tourism industry in the economic development of St Lucia.

It was a Vieux Fortian, in the position of Personnel Director of Caribbean Hotels Management Services, who appointed the first St Lucian women to the posts of Front Office Managers in hotels in St Lucia, and the first St Lucian woman ever appointed to the post of Housekeeping Manager in any hotel in St Lucia.

It was a Vieux Fortian, in the position of Personnel Manager of Caribbean Hotels Management Services, who introduced wide ranging and far reaching training activities at the Halcyon Days hotel, Halcyon Beach Club, Halcyon Sands hotel and the Club St. Lucia hotel that resulted in the replacement of scores of expatriate workers from overseas with St. Lucian workers in several important managerial positions.

The Personnel Manager also introduced, for the first time in 1973, inter-hotels sports competitions for hotel employees from all over St Lucia in football, cricket, volley ball and dominoes.

It was a Vieux Fortian who, as Deputy Chairman of the St Lucia Tourism Development Board, was assigned the responsibility for successfully overseeing the activities and functions of the Tourist Board offices in North America, led several delegations to tourism promotion activities in the United Kingdom (World Travel Market), and further advanced the tourism industry in the OECS as a Director of the Eastern Caribbean Tourism Association (ECTA).

The longest serving head of a local government authority in St Lucia is a Vieux Fortian, during which time he formed the St Lucia Association of Towns and Village Councils and served as its Chairman from 1970 until 1979. Under his acknowledged proactive leadership he succeeded in highlighting the role and functions of local government resulting in better recognition of local towns and village councils on the island, and greater support for them from other Government institutions. His energetic campaign for the advancement of Local Government resulted in the establishment of strong linkages between local councils and such institutions as the Public Health Education Unit (PHEU), the Sanitation Department and the Public Works Department. The St. Lucia Association of Towns and Village Councils and its counterpart in Trinidad and Tobago, in 1978 founded the very first West Indies Association of Local Government Authorities with this Vieux Fortian as one of the two joint Presidents.

The first St Lucian appointed to the post of local manager of the St Lucia Philatelic Bureau was a Vieux Fortian. This person, who worked in that position from 1983 to 1986, was responsible for planning and implementing the releases of St Lucia stamps, and his functions included identifying, selecting, collating material for indigenous St Lucia stamps in collaboration with Philatelists Limited of the United Kingdom.

When BWIA in Trinidad decided that it would no longer be transporting farm workers from Barbados and the OECS countries to work in Canada in 1990, it was a Vieux Fortian Minister of State in the Ministry of Health, Information, Broadcasting and Labour, with responsibility for the Labour Portfolio who, within four days of his appointment and being confronted with this situation, quickly convened a meeting of Labour Ministers from Barbados and the OECS in St Lucia at which he was given a mandate to travel to Trinidad with a view to resolving this serious dilemma. His discussion with BWIA representatives in Trinidad resulted in a reversal of the airline’s decision thus ensuring the continuation of the participation of these countries in the Canada-Caribbean Seasonal Agricultural Workers Programme.

Following his successful meeting with BWIA, this Vieux Fortian travelled to Canada to meet with Employers of Caribbean workers in order to assure them of the continued involvement and dependability of Barbados and OECS countries in the Farm Workers Programme.

It was this Vieux Fortian Government Minister who, during 1990 and 1992, was responsible for chairing all meetings with employers, trade unions and other representatives of the groups and institutions involved in the Tri-partite system, dealing with the acceptance and implementation of the Labour Code draft prepared by Professor Kronin of the International Labour Organization.

Within six weeks of assuming office as Minister, this Vieux Fortian met with all employers in the Vieux Fort Industrial Estate and successfully negotiated better wages and improved working conditions of employment for factory workers in the Vieux Fort area. Unfortunately, although these wage increases were approved by Cabinet they were never implemented due to opposition from the then National Development Corporation.

It was a Vieux Fortian who served as Special Advisor to a delegation of Caribbean Government Ministers that held discussion in Washington, DC, with officials of the American State Department with regards to America’s off-shore Farm Labor Program and other Labor related matters relevant to Caribbean Countries.

A Vieux Fortian is the first person in the history of the St. Lucia Senate to table a private member’s resolution in the upper house. As an opposition senator, in 1980 he tabled a resolution which was adopted by the Senate which led to the first review of, and increases in, NIS benefits for Saint Lucians.

A Vieux Fortianwas the first St Lucian Diplomat to hold a “flag raising” ceremony anywhere in the diaspora in observance of StLucia’s Independence Anniversary. This official function was held at the Toronto City Hall in 1990, in Canada at no cost to the St Lucian Government, and has since become an annual event there.

A Vieux Fortian Diplomat was the first St. Lucian to organize a creole Mass anywhere in the diaspora as part of activities to mark St Lucia’s Independence Anniversary. The historic church activity was held in Toronto at no cost to the St Lucia Government, and the officiating priest was Fr. Patrick Anthony.

A Vieux Fortian is the first and only St Lucian Diplomat to organize a La Rose Festival anywhere in the Diaspora. This historic activity took place in Toronto at no cost to the St Lucia Government, and was held to highlight St Lucia’s culture to people living in the diaspora.

A Vieux Fortian diplomat is the first and only person to organize an exhibition of St Lucian artifacts in the entire diaspora. This special activity which was held in 2000 was aimed at given young people, of St Lucian parentage, born in Canada an insight into how life was in St Lucia and how much we have since progressed.

It was a Vieux Fortian Diplomat, in the position of St Lucia’s Consul General in Canada, who successfully arranged for St. Lucia to become the first OECS country to supply workers to the Canadian Provinces of Quebec and Alberta. Before that only workers from Jamaica, Barbados and Mexico were contracted to work there.

It was this same Vieux Fortian Diplomat who, in 2006, negotiated a special Memorandum of Understanding with the Provincial Government of Alberta, which was intended to allow persons from St. Lucia to be trained to handle heavy duty equipment, to work in the oil-fields in that Province.

When the Canadian Federal Government imposed Visa Travel restrictions on St Vincent, Grenada and Dominica, and threatened to do the same for St Lucians wanting to travel to Canada, it was this same Vieux Fortian Diplomat who, with a mandate from the St. Lucia Government, held talks with the Canadian Foreign Minister and other officials from DEFAIT which resulted in the Canadian Government holding back from its decision to impose Visa restrictions on St Lucian travelers for a period of at least fifteen years. St Lucians might recall that following this arrangement with the Canadian Government, the said Consul General came to St Lucia and held a number of television programmes urging St Lucians not to apply for refugee status in Canada.

It was the Vieux Fortian Consul General in Canada who, for a period of nine consecutive years, was the main spokes-person for the OECS countries during negotiations with Canadian Government officials and Canadian Employers at the Annual Review Meetings of the Canada-Caribbean Seasonal Agricultural Workers Programme. These meetings were held to negotiate the employment and conditions of employment for Caribbean migrant workers in Canada.

This Vieux Fortian Consul General in Canada played a pivotal role as acofounder, along with his counterparts from Barbados, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, in the establishment of the Canada-Caribbean Literary Exposition. This Historic activity was intended to expose the works of Caribbean authors, writers etc. to the Canadian society, and St. Lucia’s representatives at that week long outstanding event included Robert Lee and DrEdsil Edmunds.

This Vieux Fortian Diplomat was the only St Lucian diplomatic representative who planned and implemented activities that were aimed at bring St Lucians, in the diaspora, together. One of the main events was the Annual St Lucia Family Day Picnic which was held in Toronto every year from 1991 at no cost to the St Lucia Government. As many as 10,000 St Lucians from Canada and the USA attended this activity which was also attended by Prime Minister Dr. Kenny Anthony or a senior St. Lucia Government Minister. These activities were planned and implemented at no cost to the St Lucia Government.

It was this senior Vieux Fortian Diplomat who organized the first and only literary activity for St Lucians anywhere in the diaspora at no cost to the St. Lucia Government. This activity, which was called “An Evening at Roseau Valley” was held in Toronto and involved the reading of over 100 poems written by St Lucian poets. This event was given a special St. Lucia flavor with the serving of St. Lucia rum and indigenous St. Lucian foods such as starch cakes, lababad, tamarind balls, pra-lin, pem-mee, etc.

It was a senior Vieux Fortian Diplomat who successfully arranged for a Parliamentary delegation from the Ontario Legislature to visit St Lucia to assist in a project to review and update the Laws of St Lucia.

Within a period of two years in the post of Consul General, this Vieux Fortian diplomat was able to improve St Lucia’s profile in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) from near bottom of the ladder to number three with Barbados after Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago.

This Vieux Fortian Diplomat was always the person appointed by His Excellency Mr. George Bullen, OECS High Commissioner to Canada to represent the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States at any official function in Toronto in his absence.

A Vieux Fortian initiated the first ever “Reading Competition” amongst schools in St. Lucia, He and his Vieux Fortian wife fully sponsored this reading competition, and provided top quality prizes to the winners including a fully paid trip to Toronto for the top winner.  The competition was aimed at encouraging children in the South of the island to read more.  Following this, the Vieux Fortian couple initiated a project to collect books for libraries in St Lucia and, in this regard, beg for, collected and shipped a container of 10,000 books from various donors in Canada to St. Lucia.

And this Vieux Fortian Diplomat, along with his duties as Consul General, he also served the entire Diplomat community in Toronto as Dean of the Toronto Consular Corps (103 countries), Chair of the Consular Corps Association of Toronto (consisting of all Diplomats, their families and associates), Dean of the Caricom Consular Corps and Head of the OECS Consular Corps of Toronto. He carried all these positions at the same time (simultaneously).

Is it any wonder, Mr. Editor, that while on a visit to Canada as Prime Minister, Dr. Kenny D. Anthony was told by a former Senior Minister of the Canadian  Federal Government, Grenadian born Ms. Jean Augustin….”your Consul General has made all of us in the Diaspora very, very proud..”

The amazing thing about the facts that I have just given is that all these contributions listed above were not done by several Vieux Fortians…indeed; all these acts were performed by one and the same person. It is a Vieux Fortian who contributed all this and more to the development of Saint Lucia. If one person can make such a significant contribution to the development of Saint Lucia, can you imagine just how much more can be done, and achieved, if more people from Vieux Fort were given an opportunity to have an input in the development of Vieux Fort and its environs, and St Lucia in general?

The people of Vieux Fort have a voice; listen to it!

— Edith Annella Joseph

2 Comments

  1. It was nauseating, frankly, reading about that Vieu Fortian and some of them
    as though there’s been no other St.Lucians but him? you failed to mention his
    name but that’s no secret. What’s the purpose for this at this time and the reason;
    can the top brass be told so something can be done for him? not a bad guy but
    what’s up, I hope it’s not what I’m thinking of. We all at one time need a little help.

  2. Edith
    And with all that fire power coming out of the south, Viuex Fortian burden the rest of the nation with these two nincompoops. And why you fail to mention, nincompoop south was PM fifteen out of the last twenty years and gave away our seabed for rice. Nincompoop North, oh my….no Edith, we the people of Saint Lucia will not listen to what Viuex Fortian have say. Take a drive to the south and you will see why.

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