DPSU's Thomas Letang
DPSU's Thomas Letang

Many have stated that in the not-so-distant future the infamous riot of May 29, 1979, is bound to be repeated and just last week it seemed like Dominicans were on the verge of just doing that.

Over the weekend, messages began circulating that the government will enact legislation to restrict public officers' salaries to no more than 2% in any given year if the economy grows by a certain rate, but no more than 1% if it does not for the next 12 years.

Upon receiving this information which was scheduled to be enacted in Parliament on June 28, 2021, General Secretary of the Dominica Public Service Union (DPSU) Thomas Letang called an emergency meeting with his executive that morning.

Together with the Police Welfare Association (PWA) and the Dominica Association of Teachers (DAT), a letter was sent to the Prime Minister.

By 8:00 am that morning, a seemingly aggravated Letang issued a solidarity call to all public officers and concerned citizens to gather outside of the Parliament building.

But as folks say, "pressure does burst pipes."

Within minutes of the union leader making the call for public officers to get ready for protest, Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit addressed the nation withdrawing the Bill but first blamed the opposition.

Skerrit labeled the WhatsApp messages as "misleading" and in his Government defense described this interpretation of the legislation as just another "deliberate and malicious" attempt by the United Workers Party (UWP) to mislead the public and cause confusion.

He explained that the 2% referred to in the Fiscal Responsibility Bill is in respect to the overall recurrent expenditure and not specifically relating to the wage bill or salary increases or negotiation of salaries.

Furthermore, the Finance Minister (who's also the Prime Minister) pointed out that in the Fiscal Responsibility Framework the government has left room to accommodate salary increases. He assured public officers that his government will continue to look out for their best interest.

Probably understanding the impact that protests by public officers could have on the economy, the Prime Minister announced that the bill had been withdrawn to allow for further discussions with the unions.

Many financial experts and members of the opposition parties have called the PM out on his lies, stating that the proof was written in black white.

Commenting on the entire ordeal, Letang, whose job many say would have become irrelevant if this bill was passed, described aspects of the government's Fiscal Responsibility Bill as "inhumane" and "undemocratic."

According to the long-serving union leader, given the impact such legislation would have had on public officers, there should be prior consultation with all stakeholders.

"This was very insensitive because what is normally done is you will find a government that wants to take public officers to assist in moving the economy forward and that government would engage the unions and public sectors in discussion and would come up with some short-term measures to improve the situation," he said.

While he acknowledged that the government did try to reach DPSU just hours before parliament commenced, the union could not "entertain" the conversation because it was in the middle of an executive meeting.

"I was not going to leave the executive meeting to come to have a discussion just for it to be said you had a consultation with us at the last minute. This is not consultation," the DPSU leader declared: "You engage us in discussion; you tell us what your plans are; we provide you with input and at the end, there is an agreement and we move forward. That is a consultation."

As to their next course of action, the DPSU along with its lawyers will be meeting with the DTA and the PWA to come up with a joint position on the matter.

He said the union will continue to be proactive and mobilize its membership to take action in the event the government returns to parliament with the same Bill.