Newly elected President of the Grenada Trade Union Council (GTUC), Kenny James wants the Keith Mitchell-led government to address with urgency the many burning issues facing the working class in Grenada.
James, who was making his debut May Day address as TUC President told workers at the annual May Day celebrations held last week Friday in St. Andrew’s that “this is not a time for business as usual under (government’s) home grown Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP)”
He warned that “government’s failure to address the deafening situations” facing the workers “would only result in further disenchantment and an increase in poverty levels,” in the country.
This year’s labour day celebrations were held under the theme, “Maintaining the flame of our founding fathers while restructuring in the face of economic challenges”.
James avowed to “continue the struggle to safeguard” the many benefits achieved for workers throughout TUC’s 60 years as the umbrella body for trade unions in Grenada and to build on the strides made by his successors “to ensure that today we inherit the many benefits that we boast about as unions and as workers,” and “secure (the) future for the next generation as we restructure in the face of economic challenges.”
In highlighting the many burning issues to be tackled under his watch, the new TUC boss called on the Mitchell administration to “put measures in place to ensure that professionals pay their fair share of taxes,” and to create “sustainable jobs” for workers.
“We have been paying additional taxes…in this time of restructuring every cent counts, he said, “not just to our employer but to us as workers who are waiting on the little increments to help ease the burdens”.
James recalled the burning “struggle for salary increases”, while pointing to the issue of “unpaid increments to public officers,” which he said in some cases “is a violation of the Education Act by the Government.”
He reminded the regime that the “deferral is on salary negotiations not on payments of increments,” and pointed out that the private sector also faces similar challenges and issued a clarion call for “employers to honour their commitment to work with unions and workers.”
James noted that the issue of pension was another of the burning issues on the table and referenced the court ruling in the Hermaline Armstrong matter and called on government to abide with the court ruling.
“Pay Sister Armstrong, abide by the ruling of the court because failure to do so would be a clear breach with potential consequences,” he said.
The court ruling has the effect of ensuring that all public officers who entered the service after 1983 are entitled to receive a state pension following their years of service under the law which existed prior to the creation of the National Insurance Scheme (NIS).
According to the TUC President, the issue of the “permanently temporary teachers and public officers” who have been working in the system on one year contracts should also be settled once and for all.
He feared that “these disenfranchised workers would soon be joined shortly on the breadline by the workers of some state-owned entities as a result of the Government’s Attrition Policy to reduce the payroll in keeping with the dictates of the IMF-supported Structural Adjustment Programme.
James made pointed reference to a study that was done for government by the Caribbean Regional Technical Assistance Centre (CARTAC), an arm of the IMF which suggested that workers in statutory bodies should be hired only on three-year contracts.
“…From what I am seeing here these conditions are unacceptable, they are illegal as they contravene the Employment Act Section 29 and do not augur well for the emotional and physiological health of the workers, neither does it grow the economy,”he said.
He spoke of workers who lack job security not being able to access mortgages or loans from financial institutions and that some even struggle to get basic hire purchase arrangements with some local commercial businesses.
James also outlined the TUC’s position with respect to foreign investors who are bent on hiring workers on condition that they do not join trade unions.
“Government must remind our investors that as much as we are glad to have glad to have them…workers in the service industry should be free to join a trade union of their choice,” he said, and that “any attempt to discourage this is a violation of our Constitutional rights…”.
He thanked his predecessor, Madonna Harford, the former head of the Public Workers Union (PWU) “for the excellent work” she has done in the labour movement over the years.
“Sister Harford, your mentorship has done me well and I will continue to tap into your resourcefulness as I lead this organisation,” he said.
Labour Minister Elvin Nimrod who attended the labour day activities told the large gathering that his “government has no intention nor the appetite to do anything to diminish, erode, dilute or take away any rights” that the workers have acquired throughout the years.
“These…are rights, brothers and sisters that should never be surrendered under any circumstances,” he said.
Minister Nimrod placed on record government’s acknowledgment of what he dubbed a “legitimate concern” raised by Leader of the Technical and Allied Workers Union (TAWU) and President of the Senate, Chester Humphrey “about the potential dangers in taking away rights from workers, included in the new Banking Bill,” which was recently introduced to Parliament.
The Labour Minister was quick to point out that while his Government acknowledges the concerns raised that “the bill is an initiative of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) but was quick to point out that
“Grenada cannot by any means unilaterally changes the terms and conditions” but will do all that we can to make sure that we remove any threat to the rights and benefits of workers.”