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Dominica: “PM Skerrit describes port workers protest as illegal, selfish”

Prime Minister, Roosevelt Skerrit has described protest action by workers of Dominican Air and Seaport Authority (DASPA) as illegal and selfish.

The workers took strike action on Friday morning in relation to salary negotiations.

General Secretary of the Dominica Public Service Union (DPSU), Thomas Letang, said enough emphasis is not being placed on salary negotiations with the port workers. He said the workers are interested in settling the matter in the shortest possible time.

He stated that negotiations for 2014 to 2016 should have been concluded already and they should now be engaged in negotiations for 2017 to 2019.

In an address to the nation on Friday morning, Skerrit said the government or DASPA will not negotiate with the workers while they are on strike.

“Let me make it very clear to the DASPA workers – DASPA shall not negotiate with a gun to its head,” he stated. “There shall be no negotiations at any level while workers are out on an illegal industrial action.”

According to Skerrit, Dominica has not been collecting major taxes since the passage of Hurricane Maria.

“Some of these very same workers who are agitating have taken full advantage of the duty-free concessions,” he remarked. “How can anyone expect there to be salary negotiations of any kind with the country’s tax revenue dramatically affected. It is either the country reinstate all taxes and then considerations of salary increase or we extend aspects of the tax break so as to allow more people to get their lives regularized and we hold on salary negotiations for a few more months.”

Skerrit questioned where Dominica is supposed money for salary increases when, according to him, “no taxes are being collected and hundreds of private sector workers have lost their jobs.”

“This is very selfish and self serving of the DASPA workers,” he noted. “You want salary increase when all wards at the PMH are not functional and some in urgent need of equipment? You want salary increase when farmers are still struggling to get their lands cleared, plowed and planted? You want salary increase when we are still struggling to settle the island’s children back in schools? You want salary increase when hundreds of Dominicans are still without a roof over their heads? You want salary increase at a time when people are asking us to renew the duty-free concessions? Where is government or DASPA is supposed to get the money you are asking for?”

He added, “You want salary increase when tourist vendors have not earned a dollar for the season? You want salary increase when every single Dominican have been raising questions about the efficiency, or lack thereof, at the port in clearing their goods, to restart their businesses and to fix their homes and regularize their lives? Are DASPA staff not aware that DASPA has been using monies from insurance payouts to meet salary payments since Hurricane Maria? The port’s revenue has dropped by over 30 percent and the only way the port has been able to pay salaries is by utilizing insurance payouts received for losses.”

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