Viewing cable 08BRIDGETOWN140
Title: Labor Unions in St Kitts - Going Through Transformation

IdentifierCreatedReleasedClassificationOrigin
08BRIDGETOWN1402008-03-04 19:39:00 2011-08-30 01:44:00 UNCLASSIFIED Embassy Bridgetown
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DE RUEHWN #0140/01 0641939
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R 041939Z MAR 08
FM AMEMBASSY BRIDGETOWN
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 6180
INFO RUCNCOM/EC CARICOM COLLECTIVE
RUMIAAA/HQ USSOUTHCOM J2 MIAMI FL
UNCLAS BRIDGETOWN 000140 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SIPDIS 
 
STATE FOR DRL - Gabriel Rigg 
DOL for Gay Chatenia 
 
E.O. 12958:  N/A 
TAGS: ELAB PGOV ECON SC XL
 
SUBJECT:  Labor Unions in St Kitts - Going Through Transformation 
 
(1) (U) Summary:  Laboff recently met with the leadership of three 
major labor organizations in St Kitts: the old line St Kitts and 
Nevis Trades and Labor Union (SKNLU);   the teachers union; and the 
new unofficial, independent Stevedores Association.  All three 
unions are going through transformation in reaction to the dramatic 
changes undergoing St Kitts as it shifts from the moribund sugar 
industry into a mostly tourism-based economy. End Summary. 
 
OLD LINE TRADE UNION SEEKING TO STAY RELEVANT 
 
¶2.  (U) Labor Union president Clifford Thomas, Vice President Sydney 
Bridgewater, and General Secretary Batumba Tak presented a bleak 
picture to Laboff of the union's situation in meetings February 
18-22. The SKNTLU has had a long history dating back to the 1930s. 
At one point, it was a powerful force in St Kitts and Nevis, as the 
majority of workers in the formal sector belong to the union.  The 
SKNTLU previously boasted a high membership; but due to the closure 
of the sugar industry it presently has a small membership of around 
600 members. The Union is a member of the Caribbean Congress of 
Labour. 
 
¶3.  (U) In the Union's heyday, it had many collective bargaining 
agreements, but with the dramatic collapse of the sugar industry, 
most of those agreements were cancelled.  It still does collective 
bargaining with about 6 companies across the Federation, but it has 
no collective agreement with the hotel sector, the fastest growing 
sector of the economy. Foreign owned companies are reluctant to have 
a collective agreement with the Union so many of their employees are 
not union members. 
 
¶4. (U) The union leadership contends that they are in a rebuilding 
period as they were marginalized during the People's Action Movement 
(PAM) government. They strongly believe that the worker needs a 
voice and that they are still relevant and are the voice of the 
working class. The SKNTLU is hampered in its work by being closely 
associated with the present government of the St. Kitts and Nevis 
Labour Party, and critics of the union dismiss its leadership as 
being little more than political hacks.  Indeed, the union operates 
the unofficial newspaper of the ruling party, which is little more 
than a pro government propaganda sheet. 
 
¶5. (U) Union officials disclosed that the tripartite negotiations 
between the Union, the St. Kitts Chamber if Commerce and the 
Department of Labour are to resume shortly.  The former social 
partnership (similar to the successful social partnership committee 
in Barbados)   consultations had ceased a number of years ago due to 
the relatively peaceful industrial climate (the last strike was in 
1983).  The free movement of labor within the CSME framework is not 
as big an issue in St Kitts as is it in other countries.  However, 
with the recent boom in construction, and the opening of large scale 
resorts, it is likely that St Kitts will see a sharp increase in 
foreign workers from other Caribbean countries.  There is a large 
number of Guyanese working already in St Kitts.  In fact, the 
President of Auberge-Firesky, (the conglomerate building the 
"Christopher Harbor" project on the island's southeastern peninsula) 
informed Poloff that because St.  Kitts lacks a sufficient labor 
pool; they are recruiting workers form Guyana and China to complete 
the project. The union leadership did not think that trafficking in 
persons was a particularly large problem, but noted that there is 
some prostitution going on, and most of the women are Dominican or 
Haitian. 
 
NEW STEVEDORES ASSOCIATION CHALLENGES THE OLD UNION 
 
¶6.  (U) Mr. Patches Liburd, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of 
Social Development, Community and Gender Affairs and president of 
the independent Stevedores Association of St. Kitts (SAS), told 
Laboff SAS was established to give protection to the waterfront 
workers who were formerly represented by the SKNTLU. He mentioned 
that the christening of the Union was marked by a "baptism of fire": 
a struggle between union officials and the Shipping Association over 
recognition of the newly formed union. He dismissed the SKNTLU union 
as having lost the trust of the working class as they had been 
totally emasculated by the government over the years.  He maintained 
that the government, which professes to be pro worker, is actually 
anti working class and has over the years taken many steps to weaken 
the labor movement. Liburd added that SAS had submitted a 
comprehensive proposal package to outline the mandate of the Union, 
but said that to date, the SAS has not met with Prime Minister 
Denzil Douglas to iron out these issues. 
TEACHERS UNION 
¶7. (U)  Mrs. Carlene Morton, President of the St Kitts Teacher's 
union, lamented that there was still room for improvement in the 
relationship between Government and the Union; noting that the Union 
need to be able to effectively bargain for its 480-odd members 
representing 30 schools.  She added that more training was necessary 
to supplement the two year training program at the Teachers' College 
to increase the level of professionalism in the teaching service and 
to raise the standard of education throughout the Federation. 
 
8 (U).  Morton cited overcrowding in the classroom (25-35 students 
per class) as another key problem, noting that the union is working 
closely with the PTAs to alleviate this problem. Mrs. Morton added 
that drug counseling and guidance counseling is being undertaken in 
the school system and on a national level.  But she lamented the 
poor parenting skills, and the devastating impact that crime and the 
drug trade is having on young people.   Although the hotel industry 
is booming, many students are not developing the skills needed for 
that sector as there is a high drop out rate. 
 
GOVERNMENT PERSPECTIVE 
 
¶9. (U) Laboffs had useful meetings with Minister Dwyer Astaphan and 
Labour Commissioner, Spencer Amory at the Department of Labour 
offices.  Astaphan pointed out that after the closure of the sugar 
industry and political and economic changes, the Union failed to 
diversify. He stressed that there is a need and role for the Union, 
and was somewhat optimistic that the union will recover and become a 
more powerful force than it is now.  He stated that the Tripartite 
Social Partnership was about to resume with all the major 
stakeholders participating and in fact would hold their first 
meeting in a few weeks, after a decade long delay in meeting. 
 
¶10. (U)  Astaphan said Trafficking in Persons (TIP) is not a real 
issue in the Federation. He commented that so far there has not been 
a large influx of illegal workers, but the booming tourism industry 
needs to attract a lot of workers, and the St Kitts population base 
is so small, that it is inevitable that the  number of foreign 
workers would increase in the coming years. He also noted that there 
is already a sizable Guyanese population in the island. 
 
COMMENT 
 
(U) The labor movement in St Kitts is undergoing a profound 
transformation mirroring the transformation of society wrought by 
the collapse of the sugar industry which was the mainstay of the 
economy.  Of the three unions we met with, the teachers union seemed 
the most professional and the most organized.  The SKNTLU seemed 
tired and worn out and searching to find a way to be relevant.  The 
SAS seems poised to take on the old union, and perhaps supplant it 
as the major private sector union in the island. 
 
(U) Due to the onset of renewed consultations in the Federation, 
union officials across the board expressed interest in any available 
training and outreach, notably FMCS and OSHA regional seminars that 
may be held later in spring.  They also asked if the solidarity 
center in Washington would consider resuming training union members 
in organizing.  The SKNTLU admitted that they lack up to date 
training in organizing and are interested in trying to break into 
the booming tourism industry.   We will be contacting relevant 
Washington agencies in the coming weeks to discuss training 
opportunities. 
 
Ourisman