Public servants and opposition supporters protest national budget in Dominica, 2002-2003

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Timing
Time Period:  
July
2002
to
April
2003
Location and Goals
Country: 
Dominica
Goals: 
To prevent the enactment of a 4 percent stabilization levy and a 10 percent cut in public service salaries that were part of the 2002 budget
 

In July 2002, the Dominican government approved a new budget for 2002-2003. The Dominican economy had been experiencing difficulties and the government decided to carry out some austerity measures as a way to combat the difficult times. The terrorist attack on the United States in 2001 contributed to a global economic slow-down and the Dominican economy, which had already been on the decline, suffered additional hardship. The language of the budget was very controversial and the government saw strong opposition against the budget, specifically against a 4 percent stabilization levy that would affect all sections of the population.

The $111.1 million budget was officially approved on July 3, 2002, by a 15-10 vote with one representative abstaining. Immediately the major opposition party, the United Workers Party (UWP), expressed dissatisfaction and several hundred citizens gathered outside the Parliament Building to march and protest the budget; some protesters carried placards with messages like “no more taxes” and “the prime minister and his cabinet must go.” Amongst the crowd, a few former government ministers could be seen participating.

In the aftermath of the protest, the Public Service Union (PSU) had been meeting to discuss the ramifications of the new budget and to decide whether or not to act. The union decided that the 4 percent levy was too high of a tax and called for a protest on July 9. In the call to action, the PSU made it clear that workers in important services like hospitals and police departments should remain at work and not participate in the demonstration. Not only concerned with the budget, the PSU was also disturbed by calls from both the private sector of Dominica and the International Monetary Fund to cut funds and jobs in the public sector.

Consequently, many union members took to the streets to protest the budget, including workers from essential services; myriad police officers executed a sick-out, calling into work sick in protest of the budget. A report surfaced afterwards stating that the tires of six government vehicles had been slashed during the demonstration and some members of government speculated that police officers had been the perpetrators. The Dominican Association of Evangelical Churches (DAEC) used the opportunity to call for peace and order. The DAEC criticized the protesters and labeled the actions of the striking police officers as “unprofessional and irresponsible.”

In September 2002, the campaign acquired an unlikely ally. On September 4, Frankie “Krazy T” Bellot, a successful businessman and owner of a local radio station, criticized the government’s proposed budget and announced that he would be organizing a protest later in the week. Bellot originally funded activities for the Dominican Labor Party (DLP), the party in control of the government, but became highly critical of the government once the new budget was proposed.

Bellot organized a protest assembly outside the parliament building with a number of participants. The UWP organized a similar demonstration four days after and loud speakers were used to disrupt the parliamentary proceedings taking place inside the parliament building. On the same day of the UWP’s demonstration, members of the PSU executed another sick-out, lasting two days, which affected customs, immigration services, and the fire departments. Government reports stated later that some protesters blocked the main exit of the parliamentary building, making it difficult for the representatives to leave and resulting in the damaging of one government vehicle. Despite several demonstrations opposing the levy bill, the government approved and passed the bill later that week.

In December 2002, reports surfaced that the government had plans to prosecute Bellot for organizing an illegal protest earlier in the year. Bellot’s demonstration, for which he did not receive governmental permission, resulted in a partial shutdown of the Dominican capital. In response, Bellot claimed that he had not actually staged a demonstration, telling the media, “I don’t know what law I broke, I went to the police to apply for permission to stage a protest. They said they could not grant permission for a protest, so I asked them to escort me and they did.” Adding to the dismay of the campaign, reports surfaced of death threats directed at both the leader of the PSU and Bellot.

In the months following the passing of the levy bill, the PSU continued to hold regular meetings and strategize. In February 2003, the PSU issued the government an ultimatum, threatening further action. The ultimatum was in response to a proposal by the government that would institute a monthly “two-day compulsory leave without pay” for public service workers. The PSU argued that such a proposal would result in an additional 10 per cent reduction in the salaries of public service workers, adding to the 4 percent reduction from 2002’s levy bill.

In response, the government did not meet the PSU’s stated deadline, stating that more time was needed to consider the PSU’s claims. That same day, public service workers began a protest strike and remained away from their jobs. The port authority and prison departments were especially impacted by the protest strike. Additionally, 80 per cent of workers at a Dominican airport did not report to work, causing the airport to shut down and incoming flights to be redirected. A week into the strike, the Customs Division of the port authority had shut down, state-run health services were operating with diminished staffs, and only one airport remained operational. The devastating strike ended shortly after, lasting a total of eight days.

On February 25, the PSU agreed to end the strike after proactive discussions with the government. The agreement called for all public service workers to return to work and for the establishment of a joint task force to work toward a compromise between the two parties. In March, the government announced that the public service workers who participated in February’s strike would not be compensated for the duration of the strike. Consequently, the PSU organized a protest march three weeks later to express discontent with the government’s decision. The march did provoke the paying of the workers in April, but it also provoked a reduction of pay for many of the workers.

Though the campaign executed several successful actions, the campaign’s efforts resulted in few concessions from the government. Levies against Dominican workers were not reduced or rescinded and the eight-day strike resulted in additional pay cuts for workers.

Research Notes
Influences: 

The PSU engaged in conversation the National Union of Public Workers in Barbados to discuss results of a similar campaign in Barbados (1)

Sources: 
Caribbean Media Corporation News Agency. "Dominica: Parliament approves budget; protesters take to the streets" Caribbean Media Corporation News Agency 4 July 2002

----. "Dominica: Public Service Union plans 9 July protest against budget" Caribbean Media Corporation News Agency 9 July 2002

----. "Caribbean: Dominica government operations on go-slow as public servants protest" Caribbean Media Corporation News Agency 10 July 2002

----. "Dominica: Church group urges love of country before politics to prevent anarchy" Caribbean Media Corporation News Agency 11 July 2002

----. "Dominica: Public Service Union may organize further protests against budget" Caribbean Media Corporation News Agency 30 July 2002

----. "Dominica: Protests to be held against government's economic policies" Caribbean Media Corporation News Agency 4 September 2002

----. "Dominica: Government appeals for an end to anti-government protests" Caribbean Media Corporation News Agency 6 September 2002

----. "Dominica: Opposition to table a no-confidence motion against government" Caribbean Media Corporation News Agency 6 September 2002

----. "Dominica: Opposition protests tax bill, public servants stage sick-out" Caribbean Media Corporation News Agency 9 September 2002

----. "Dominica: Prime minister condemns violent incident outside parliament" Caribbean Media Corporation News Agency 12 September 2002

----. "Dominica: Premier stresses stabilization levy passed by parliament is temporary" Caribbean Media Corporation News Agency 12 September 2002

----. "Dominica: Businessman to face charges for leading anti-government protest" Caribbean Media Corporation News Agency 17 December 2002

----. "Dominica: Businessman charged with protesting illegally pleads not guilty" Caribbean Media Corporation News Agency 24 December 2002

----. "Dominica's leaders to meet to discuss recent death threats, growing violence" Caribbean Media Corporation News Agency 26 January 2003

----. "Public Service Union gives Dominica government ultimatum" Caribbean Media Corporation News Agency 14 February 2003

----. "Dominica: Government needs time to consider Public Service Union proposals" Caribbean Media Corporation News Agency 19 February 2003

----. "Crippling public sector protests continue in Dominica" Caribbean Media Corporation News Agency 21 February 2003

----. "Dominica: Civil servants continue strike as government proposes pay cut" Caribbean Media Corporation News Agency 24 February 2003

----. "Dominica: No end in sight to strike by civil servants after talks fail" Caribbean Media Corporation News Agency 26 February 2003

----. "Dominica: Finance official decries millions lost in strike; affect on IMF deal" Caribbean Media Corporation News Agency 27 February 2003

----. "Dominican unions agree to end strike" Caribbean Media Corporation News Agency 27 February 2003

----. "Dominica: Civil servants will not be paid for period on strike - acting premier" Caribbean Media Corporation News Agency 4 March 2003

----. "Dominica: Businessman plans public protest to coincide with IMF visit" Caribbean Media Corporation News Agency 5 March 2003

----. "Dominica: Civil servants plan protest march for 26 March" Caribbean Media Corporation News Agency 22 March 2003

----. "Dominica: Civil servants paid late and some have pay deducted for strike action" Caribbean Media Corporation News Agency 15 April 2003

James, Canute. "THE AMERICAS & MIDDLE EAST: Caribbean faces up to sinking economies" Financial Times 12 July 2002

Orlando Sentinel. "Government-worker strike enter 2nd day, shuts airport" Orlando Sentinel 21 February 2003

Sun Sentinel. "Federal employees protest payroll tax" Sun Sentinel 10 July 2002

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Julio Alicea, 21/03/2011