UPDATED NOV. 28: Turks and Caicos Islands government workers planned to strike again today because several concessions by government on civil service reform failed to satisfy their demands.
The Civil Service Association (CSA), which represents about 500 of 2,200 government workers, said government did not respond in time over the weekend to stop the strike, which is planned for Nov. 28-29.
“It is quite obvious that the administration has no interest in addressing our issues,” the CSA management council said in a Nov. 28 press statement. However, it intends to meet with government Chief Executive Martin Stanley today.
Stanley said he would not meet with the CSA while a strike was on, and that a two-day strike would mean no further negotiations until Nov. 30. He also said that striking employees would be docked pay for the days they missed without proper medical or annual leave arrangements.
After several hundreds of employees struck Nov. 22, Stanley met with the CSA. On Nov. 25 he conceded on several issues, including:
- Voluntary severance payments should be based on salaries before the 10% reduction imposed last year,
- Significantly slow down the pace of the voluntary severance program, and
- Welcome further discussions with you, and with the wider public service, about the phasing out of the 10% salary reduction, improvements to the pension scheme, gratuities issues etc. as soon as money becomes available.
The strike Nov. 22 closed down some offices on Grand Turk and Providenciales for the day, but did not affect the airport and other essential services.
Workers are upset with a host of civil service reforms by the interim government aimed at balancing the country’s budget by next year after years of lagging government revenue. The last straw appeared to be a voluntary severance offer that is hoped to cut as many as 300 civil service jobs.
The CSA objects to many of the details of the severance package. It says government hasn’t spent enough time assessing which civil service jobs should be made redundant, and didn’t give civil servants enough time to consider voluntary severance offers.
Striking workers on Grand Turk — where half of all civil servants work — demonstrated in motorcades and on foot, besieging government offices, carrying signs with numerous objections and shouting their demands against the U.K. interim government that took control of the country in August 2009.
“The interim administration respects the right of its non-essential staff to withdraw their labour,” Stanley said. “The only consequence for those workers who did strike today will be the loss of one day’s pay.”
“But the right to protest can never extend to being abusive of others and impeding those who wish to work. I was saddened to hear that an attempt was made to intimidate officials who were working in the NJS Francis Building in Grand Turk earlier today. I was particularly concerned to hear that protestors had blocked in two cars and their occupants, and for a short time refused to heed police commands to remove barriers across one street.”
Smaller but just as vocal demonstrations took place throughout the day on Providenciales, where about 800 government workers are employed. At one point, a group of about 50 demonstrated at the airport arrival area, carrying signs, singing and shouting their objections and demands as tourists came out of the terminal.
People’s Democratic Party Leader Derek Taylor and Progressive National Party Leader Clayton Greene both said they supported the striking workers.
Stanley said he was surprised by the strike and hoped to continue discussions with the CSA in the future. CSA President Rufus Ewing said a meeting with Stanley was scheduled for 3 p.m. Nov. 23.
“I appreciate that the CSA would have preferred the scheme to be even more generous but — as we have already received nearly 600 expressions of interest in this scheme — there is clearly a large number of civil servants who see this as an opportunity,” Stanley said. “We are currently generating individual offers for each of these people, and we will ask them to indicate whether or not they wish to accept by Friday, Dec. 9.”
The effect of the strike was still being assessed at press time, but Stanley confirmed that the government telephone system was down for most of the day, limiting public telephone access to government departments.
The Treasury office on Grand Turk was closed all day, and the Provo office was open only for a brief period in the morning. The Labour Tribunal was forced to suspend operations because the telephone and other support services were not available for most of the day.
Government health clinics were open and staffed, and most schools also were open, but a few closed at midday because of a shortage of teachers.
Immigration and customs operations at Providenciales International Airport were largely unaffected when most flights arrived Tuesday afternoon.
The protest was the fourth demonstration of unrest so far this year. The first came March 8 when a small group of protesters demanding that the U.K. set a date for local elections blocked the main road to the airport for four days. Two flights were canceled on the first day, but traffic was rerouted and tourist travel to this popular destination was largely unaffected.
Then came a government worker “sick out” March 24 that included some firefighters at the airport, which was forced to close to all flights for the day. The CSA has denied any involvement in that action.
On Nov. 19, hundreds of civil servants staged marches on both Providenciales and Grand Turk, objecting to a wide range of issues beyond civil service reform. Some of their signs said “We refuse to go back to the 50s,” “Employ our youth,” “I need a roof over my head” and “Those milestones sure feel like millstones.”
The latter referred to the milestones set by the U.K. before government will be returned to elected officials, which is predicted to happen toward the end of 2012.
Read the CSA's strike statement
Read Stanley's letter granting concessions
Photo: Civil servants gathered in downtown Provo to protest after the march Nov. 19. (Richard Green/Staff)