The St. Lucia Civil Service Association (CSA) has examined the wording of Cabinet Conclusion #1021 of 2020 which deals with the approval of the policy for the purchase of duty-free vehicles by “Essential and Protective Services” public sector employees. The Cabinet Conclusion outlines the list of beneficiaries as being Nurses and Doctors providing full time and contractual services; Police officers of all ranks including Special Reserve Constables and Firefighters and Firemen of all ranks. From the onset, we wish to make it abundantly clear that the CSA is not opposed to any benefits bestowed on any Public Sector Worker, but will not remain silent in the face of this action which is discriminatory, unjust and unfair in its intention.
Approximately one year ago in September 2019, the CSA made representation to the Honourable Prime Minister, seeking duty-free concessions for travelling officers who are required to purchase vehicles at duty paid prices, to undertake the work assigned to them on behalf of the State by their Employer. Our request on behalf of those officers was flatly refused by the Honourable Prime Minister. Today, in the midst of the pandemic, an offer of duty-free concessions is made to selected groups of Public Officers on the premise that they were in the forefront of the fight against COVID 19. The following questions must be asked in the circumstances: –
1. What about the Customs Officers, Tax officers, Treasury Officials, Health workers including Radiologists, Lab Technicians and Service Professionals who provided critical support throughout the health crisis to ensure our safety?
2. Also what about the efforts of the Agriculture Extension Officers, Fisheries Officers, workers at NEMO and other public officers who worked diligently to ensure proper coordination of food and relief supplies to so many citizens?
3. Do they not merit equal consideration for working through the risk posed by COVID 19 and providing essential services to the country during the early days of the pandemic?
The CSA views this as a clear case of victimization against our members and an attempt to divide and undermine the strength of the Trade Union Federation (TUF) and the coalition of workers who stood strong during the last negotiations with Government and more recently against Government‘s effort to implement “the so-called blended payment modality” of 50% bonds and 50% cash.
Government first announced this measure during the presentation of the Estimates of Expenditure for the Financial Year 2020/21 and has now published the details with certain limitations, which makes the concession seem less attractive than when it was originally presented. The time frame of seven months is way short of the two years suggested earlier and leaves very little room for the beneficiaries to consider whether or not to take the plunge before the concession expires in March 2021. We, therefore, question the sincerity of Government‘s offer given that it comes during a period of uncertainty when very few of the intended beneficiaries are in a position to take advantage of the concession.
The CSA calls on Government to extend this concession both in duration and scope to include other public officers and members of the CSA who equally merit consideration for their role in the fight against COVID 19 and in particular to travelling officers, so that they may be better placed to purchase vehicles more suited for their line of work. In addition, we suggest that Government considers introducing a concessionary financing mechanism to further assist all Public Sector employees in purchasing the vehicles in order to avoid the exorbitant interest rates that are normally charged in such circumstances. Further, we strongly recommend that future concessions by Government should focus on more positive developmental initiatives such as facilitating the purchase of affordable housing and land for public officers.
Our Members matter and should never be victimized or discriminated against in such a manner by their Employer.