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Prime Minister Skerrit with his 2016 budget  address
Prime Minister Skerrit with his 2016 budget address

Some went in with a degree of apprehension; others went in barely holding their breath. They left with a degree of satisfaction and a promise or two.

"In relation to a delegation being present at the ILO [International Labour Organization] meeting in 2018 . . . we got that commitment from the prime minister," said Kertiste Augustus, general secretary of the Waterfront and Allied Workers' Union (WAWU).

The Dominica Association of Teachers (DAT) raised the issue of educators working in temporary positions for many years without much hope to cling on that they will have some permanency, and the DAT got a promise too.

"The government indicated they were looking at confirming 150 teachers."

Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit left his pre-budget meeting last Wednesday with the trade unions having vowed to appoint some teachers, pay for union representation at next year's ILO convention and favourably consider a request for financial backing for the manufacturing sector, according to those present at the talks.

However, he also left with a lot to mull over as he puts the finishing touches to his budget presentation, expected to be presented in the coming weeks.

The Dominica Public Service Union (DPSU), which in a letter dated 26 June to the permanent secretary in the prime minister's office had asked government to fund the participation of a trade union representative at the ILO conventions – a recommendation that got WAWU's support – also included several areas for budgetary consideration.

These included a provisional pay rise for public servants pending the outcome of salary negotiations, an increase in subventions to the Solid Waste Corporation "to facilitate the purchase of proper garbage collection vehicles and increased remuneration to employees", allocation of funds from the Citizenship by Investment programme for a facility from which young people who have acquired skills through the various programmes can operate and develop a business; placing a percentage of all funds from the CBI in a special account which will go towards the construction of an international airport , and training programme for teachers.

The list of demands also included budgetary allocations for matters such as appointments to vacant posts, agriculture, and implementation of recommendations from the reclassification exercise and government's contributions to private medical insurance for public officers.

The manufacturers had their own demands as well, although not as many as the DPSU.

"We proposed to develop infrastructure for the manufacturing sector," said Severin McKenzie of the Business Development Forum.

One of the key issues facing the sector, he said, was the lack of trained technicians "to do basic work on machinery, and the unavailability of basic spare parts because everything is concentrated on motor vehicles".

The manufacturers also want Skerrit to take a second look at the Value Added Tax because "although they tried to assist with the VAT by increasing the threshold, the application of it was a disincentive because it actually made the cost of manufacturing higher, because small manufacturers below $250,000 paid VAT on everything but it was not recoverable. So it made it more costly".

They also requested that provisions be made to market Dominican products, similar to the budgetary allocations for tourism promotion.

Skerrit and his team, which included ministers Ian Douglas, Rayburn Blackmore, Colin McIntyre and Roselyn Paul, heard from the unions, which also included the Dominica Association of Industry and Commerce, the Dominica Trade Union, the National Workers Union and the Police Welfare Association, that duties and taxes on the construction sector should be reduced, there should be a special line of credit for fishermen to purchase bigger and refrigerated boats and research should continue into the possibility of establishing a national health insurance scheme.

"Generally, the administration was receptive," said Augustus. However, with budget day or so near, "I do not know in terms of the time constraints, how they will include [these recommendations]."

Many might have gone in with a degree of apprehension, but some, like McKenzie, can actually hold their breath.

"That's the first time for a number of years that manufacturing is being considered for some form of financial input [and it] is a good sign and an encouraging one," he said.