Letang addresses press conference
Letang addresses press conference

It appears that Government's propaganda has boomeranged negatively. After years of boasting about how great Dominica's economy has been, when in fact it hasn't been doing well, the government is finding it hard to convince its employees that the economic situation is so bad that it cannot offer them an increase in wages and salaries.

Now, the union representing government employees, the Dominica Public Service Union (DPSU) is pointing a taunting finger at the Government: "Find de Money".

As part of its own propaganda, "Find de Money" is the message that the DPSU has printed at the back of T-shirts that it has distributed to its members. At the front: "0%, 0%, 0 %-No". At the beginning of salary negotiations, the DPSU says it wants government to pay 5% increase for each of the years 2015 to 2017.

"We didn't make any exorbitant request," said Thomas Letang, the DPSU general secretary at a press conference last week. "Actually we think we were very tempered in requesting per year a meagre 5%, 5% and 5%. And what we heard is a very resounding 0, 0, 0. But members are saying-no, no, no". In addition, the union wants the implementation of a reclassification exercise that the government undertook many years ago as well as better working conditions especially for non-established workers.

"We have not been able to get the Government to understand that you cannot discriminate against certain people because of who they are," said Letang.

As the choreography between the two parties continues, Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit has suggested the convening of a meeting between government, civil society and the trade unions to discuss the state of the economy in relation to the demands by the police, teachers and other public service workers. But Letang smells a rat, one that stinks of division and surprises.

"To say now you want to meet with us after negotiations have started to tell us why you cannot give us a salary increase is unacceptable," Letang told the press. "We are making it clear- we have absolutely no objection to meeting with the Prime Minister; but we are saying if you want to meet with us it's on our own, by ourselves."

Letang said in any proposed meeting with the Prime Minister, the DPSU would want to bring up specific issues such as the "injustice meted out to the Public Works (Department) employees who have been laid off for two years and have not been paid their redundancy."

On the issue of whether government can afford an increase in wages and salaries to civil servants given the state of the Dominican economy, Letang said government gives the impression that it awash in cash.

"You cannot tell us that financially that you cannot provide a salary increase to your employees and at the same time you find that it is morally right that you go around spending money on various things," said Letang. "It is morally wrong to tell us that we cannot get an increase and all over the place you are spending money as if it is Christmas and Santa Claus is distributing. It cannot work that way."

Government argues that the money it is currently distributing to village councils, sports clubs, institutions and other programmes come from the Citizenship by Investment Programme (CBI) and that using that money for meeting recurrent expenditure is not wise. But Letang disagrees, counter-arguing that by the same measure government is spending CBI revenue on programmes like "Yes, we care" and the youth employment programme.

Letang says the struggle to force government to increase wages for its employees will continue but there will come a period when the DPSU will be forced to act; he did not say what that action will be.

"We will arrive at a point where we believe that this thing has to be brought to an end," said Letang.

The DPSU meets its members, for a second rally on the issue of salary negotiations, on 27 April 2017.