CASTRIES, St Lucia (SNO) — Saint Lucian Customs and Excise officers have begun a two-day sickout in protest over government’s plans to merge a number of government departments into the proposed St Lucia Border Management Authority, according to sources.
The planned sickout is scheduled to take place Thursday and Friday this week.
“This is said to be the first wave of action,” one source said.
Customs officers fear that a number of them will lose their jobs if the statutory body is established, despite government’s assurances they will not.
“Any solution that requires people to be sent home is not something my government will consider. I know of no proposal that suggested anybody would have to go home,” Chastanet said at a press briefing last month.
He was referring to allegations suggesting that officers employed with the Customs and Excise Department would be asked to resign and re-apply for positions in the new entity called the St Lucia Border Management Authority.
These allegations seem to have frightened officers to the point where they sought advice from their bargaining agent, the Civil Service Association (CSA), which met with them recently to hear their grievances.
CSA’s general secretary Claude Paul reminded that while the prime minister spoke of no job losses in the four entities to be merged to form the St Lucia Border Management Authority, namely Customs and Excise, Immigration Department, Marine Police and the Quarantine Department, it was basically the same language he seems to have spoken with regards to Radio St Lucia, which no longer broadcasts on a commercial basis, the Tourist Board, which has morphed into the St Lucia Tourism Association, and other entities.
Paul spoke of an air of uncertainty amongst workers whenever the prime minister speaks of either closing down or transforming their work places.
Chastanet envisaged that not only will those persons working in the four entities to be merged into the St Lucia Border Management Authority not lose their jobs, but that the Customs and Excise Department, which will be taking over the role of persons in the Immigration Department, will be an upgraded version of its current self when the transformation is done.
“There is nothing envisioned that anybody is being dislocated or sent anywhere else. Customs would be upgraded not downgraded. We don’t see anybody being sent home,” Chastanet reiterated.
It is envisioned that police officers attached to the Immigration Department will go back to being police officers, Customs and Excise officers will absorb the Immigration Department and that of Quarantine while the Marine Police will remain as it.
“Police officers will no longer be performing the function of immigration. So police officers will go back to their substantive posts on the beat. We are excited about that because we would like to see more policemen on the road. I would have like to see that already but given the lack of software systems we have not been able to do that,” Chastanet had said.
Despite his assurances, the CSA does not trust his words.
“Notwithstanding a meeting held with the prime minister and a subsequent letter from the permanent secretary/director of finance, we have not been convinced that the government is acting in good faith,” the CSA said in a press release, adding that the following must be noted:
1. The information provided from the Cabinet Conclusion 247 0f 2018 specifically refers to the establishment of the St Lucia Border Management Authority as a Statutory Board. In the absence of an amendment to that Cabinet Conclusion to say otherwise, we believe that the intention of government remains unchanged.
2. There have been contradictory statements made by the prime minister and other senior officials that add confusion in the minds of our members, who remain steadfast in their view that the position as stated in the Cabinet Conclusion is NOT appropriate for revenue collection and law enforcement purposes.
3. We have taken note that there are no similar structures operating in any part of the region and those other reform initiatives involving Customs have been strongly resisted in places like Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados.
“Therefore the CSA and the members of the Customs and Excise Branch have stated their intention to remain resolute and will be considering all available legal options to defend its position against this ill conceived initiative,” the CSA concluded.