Ferrier says talks will be held with unions on cuts

~ ‘We are facing serious liquidity problems’ ~

PHILIPSBURG–Government plans to hold talks with labour unions regarding the package of 37 cost-cutting measures, some of which will affect civil servants, and authorities are hoping that the dialogue will be positive.

Finance Minister Michael Ferrier’s assurance on Wednesday that talks will be held with the workers representatives comes one day after the Windward Islands Chamber of Labour Unions (WICLU) says it firmly opposes any measures that will affect its members and disclosed plans to mobilize workers to protest the cuts.

“We are in dire times and I am sure that unions also know this,” Ferrier told reporters in an invited comment during the Council of Ministers press briefing. The Minister said the package of measures has to first be approved by the Council of Ministers. Government will also “seek the support” of Parliament.

“We will open a dialogue with the unions in the hope that we find solutions together as to how to mitigate the liquidity problem that this island is in. And let me be very clear – if we do nothing, and even if we do a lot of things, we are facing serious liquidity problems so I am hoping for a positive dialogue with the unions. I am sure they will [be positive – Ed.] because I know them to be responsible unions.”

While “many” of the 37 cost-cutting measures “will somehow or the other affect workers,” some relate to civil servants “doing their work the way it needs to be done.”

He gave as an example the functioning of the internal audit systems in government. “In cost-cutting there are things such as vehicle repairs. There are many cars that are being used by government employees and departments that go for repairs. Right now I do not know of a system in place where the person who is the driver or the person to whom a vehicle has been assigned… gets to see, for instance, the repair work that is done to the vehicle. So a car breaks down; the driver knows it has to do with brakes; it goes to the garage; it gets repaired and the bill comes in.

“Right now, I cannot tell you that this bill is presented to the driver or the person who is in charge of that vehicle to verify that the items that were repaired were actually the items that needed to be repaired. Maybe more repairs were done to it, but who gets it (the bill) is someone in a department who just sees the bills and signs them off and sends them for payment – no one verifies whether the actual repair was done or if more was done or if not enough was done, but the bill gets paid.”

Ferrier also alluded to the bottled water served to ministers during meetings as another area where cost can be cut. “We get water quite often put on our tables before we start a meeting. The bottles of water we get now are half-litre bottles and at the end of the meeting you walk away and you see probably 90 per cent of the bottles are still half-full maybe some three-quarters full that gets thrown out. Maybe we should buy smaller bottles of water and save some money. It’s not only employees of government [that would be faced with cuts – Ed.], it is the entire structure of government that will be looked at,” Ferrier said. Also, at 8:00pm the lights in the Government Buildings are turned off as a measure to save on utility costs.

Prime Minister Leona Romeo-Marlin said while cost-cutting measures are necessary, this has no bearing on the salaries of workers as salaries would not be cut.

Source: The Daily Herald https://www.thedailyherald.sx/islands/75343-ferrier-says-talks-will-be-held-with-unions-on-cuts