With another general election approaching, the labour movement in Grenada has sounded an ominous warning to the Keith Mitchell-led government on those burning issues which need to be addressed as a matter of urgency such as pension and long-over due gratuity payments.
President of the Grenada Trades Union Council (GTUC), Kenny James used Sunday’s Labour Day platform at St. Patrick to call on workers to see the issue of pension as a major tool in casting their vote on election day.
James said it is time for Grenadians who are eligible to vote to consider this (pension) as an issue that will determine a decision at the polls.
“Comrades, a day is coming soon when those who wish to be employed on our behalf will come to us seeking our support to be our parliamentarians. Comrade, for us the campaign cannot be restricted to roads, the campaign should not be about infrastructure, the campaign should not be on the facilities we have created but the campaign should be on the pensions for public officers who serve this country with distinction…”, he told the Labour Day rally that was attended by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Labour, Elvin Nimrod.
In his hard-hitting speech, the GTUC President warned that some public officers will retire into poverty due to the austerity measures of the Structural Adjustment Programme initiated by Mitchell’s ruling New National Party (NNP) administration.
“…Our politicians …are comfortable to bamboozle us …on the pension issue while they continue to secure their pensions and those of party loyalist within ten (10) years or less”, he said.
According to James, the pensions for public officers will continue to be a major issue for the GTUC and its affiliates.
The GTUC boss called for a “renewed consciousness” among the nation’s populace that speaks to country and the empowerment of all citizens to make meaningful contributions to the development of the tri-island state.
“Brothers and sisters, beyond doubt we are a small island developing state with a small economy and great exposure to external shocks and vulnerabilities. Nevertheless, we cannot allow this situation to totally dictate the way in which we treat our people”, he said.
“We have seen how the school of thought of letting the market regulate itself has landed the world in a recession. It is time for us to refocus as a people, remembering that it is not only about eating ah food today, but the sustainable future of each Grenadians must be considered”, he added.
“…The GUTC calls for a renewed consciousness among our people…a consciousness that reflects a ‘Grenadianness’ void of partisan influences but guided by our view of a sustainable future for our peoples, which shall be championed by our Unions,” he told workers.
The President reflected on the many challenges that workers have been grappling with especially the effects of SAP, which he noted has “resulted in increased taxation on the middle class, increased lay-offs, the closure of the Grenada Postal Cooperation (GPC) for which to date the owner/s remain anonymous, increased food prices, and the merger of service providers creating a monopoly, which compromises the issue of pricing for these services.”
James also addressed the burning issue of the “non-collection of taxes from the professional class,” by government since it can result in the collection of more revenue for the Treasury..
He called on the NNP regime to impose taxes on the professional class and not only on a certain section of the population.
He said the “harsh reality, brothers and sisters, is that if any of us were to access the services of these professionals it would not be pro bono. As a matter of fact we have to pay before receiving the service nevertheless they are not paying their due to the government”.
“We say to the administration as part of our safeguarding of workers interest, stop playing games with us. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank do not need to show us or tell us how to collect taxes and how to access accounts.
“The workers of Grenada today say we pay them, make them pay you, collect your money from them because when you do, the benefits to all of us would be greater and the achievements of the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) will also be greater.
The GTUC boss also addressed the most recent attempt by the Mitchell government to outsource the auxiliary and nursing staff in the health sector.
He charged that efforts to “undermine unions are afoot with the increase use of contract labour in the public sectors and the use of Imani trainees as full time workers.”
James said that while “the unions accept that in some areas of work contracts are necessary as reflected in the Labour Code, we also accept that within the public service and in some areas of the private sector the introduction of contracts is a backward step in the development of our people.”
“As the major employer in a developing society, government should be leading in its provision of sustainable job for the people of Grenada, rather than placing persons at a disadvantage”, he said.
“Any system of labour which does not enable our people to access financial services, or prevents our people from living and leading meaningful lives in the context of our culture should be resisted! Similarly, the use of Imani trainees as workers is tantamount to a new form of exploitation and slavery”, he added.
In a stinging attack on government, he accused the administration of using the Imanis and other contract workers as union-busting tactics.
James said: “Comrades a trainee according to the Merriam dictionary is someone who is being trained for a job, while a worker is a person who does a particular job to earn money. Therefore, whenever we attempt to use trainees to fill the positions of workers, this constitutes an abuse of that individual and furthermore exploitation when that person is not earning the same amount as the person who should have held the position permanently.
“In short, if you are doing a three thousand dollars job for $1000 as a trainee then you are being exploited. Moreover, government’s attempt to outsource the services of cleaners and cooks in the school system and nurses in the health system is another effort to frustrate the working class Grenadian, undermine the Unions and to remove the burden for the pensionable benefits that these workers are entitled to from the back of the government”, he told the workers.
According to James, there is no need for any government in office in a country like Grenada to place these essential services in the hands of the private sector as this opens the door to worker exploitation.
He charged that the government is engaged in such behaviour but is yet to hold formal discussions with the Public Workers Union (PWU), the legal bargaining agent for these auxiliary and nursing staff workers on this sensitive matter.
“I say to you comrades if anyone comes to you with a contract after your 10 or 20 years of service do not sign it. Do not sign it without the direction from your union the legal and constitutional bargaining agent for public officers. While outsourcing may be workable in some jurisdictions it is not applicable for us,” he said.
James also touched on the outstanding issue of the payment of increments to public officers and teachers.
This was an issue addressed by Labour Minister Elvin Nimrod, who was booed by the workers when making statements relating to government addressing issues affecting the poor and vulnerable in the country.
Minister Nimrod told the gathering that the issue of increments will soon be addressed as government remains committed to finding an amicable solution.
“The government is committed to meet its obligations for outstanding increments to public officers. Very soon my friends, very soon.
“We have requested the Ministry of Finance and Energy to calculate the extent of Government’s liability in respect of increment payments.
“The Ministry has since compiled the data and is analysing government’s liability to its employees.
On the issue of pensions, Minister Nimrod said government “fully appreciate the importance of this issue to workers and government is working assiduously to bring a conclusion to this problem.”
However, James said, “While the administration has indicated that it has given the go ahead to prepare the increments we (GTUC) are mindful that in this period of economic distress, a bird in hand is better than ten (10) in the bush.
The GTUC President went on to say: “…Until all officers who are so entitled receive their increments, we shall not settle”.
“The fact is that not all public officers are entitled to an increment as many of us are at the top of our scales. Consequently, government should not continue to break the law by not paying increments,” he added.
James told the gathering that the issue of pension to public officers continues to be a “sore issue” affecting the workers of Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique.
“While we are happy that Sister Hermlyn Armstrong has received her payment, we are disappointed that the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) has benefited more than Sister Armstrong,” he said.
“The GTUC and all our affiliate unions stand resolute that despite the erroneous ruling of the judge the constitution clearly states that we are entitled to a pension and this to us means that this is separate, and distinct from our NIS old age benefits.
“Comrades, there is nothing that says an officer cannot or shouldn’t receive two pensions. In fact in some good private sector companies workers retire with their NIS benefit and their pension plans as negotiated between the employer and their union. Therefore amidst the issue of pension reform and the efforts of the Consultants hired through CARTAC, public officers need their pension.
Ms Armstrong was the recipient of this year’s May Day outstanding Awards.
Scores of workers and their bargaining agents flocked the streets of St. Patrick as they engaged in the annual march for workers rights in a procession, which started at the Mc Donald College through the main streets of Sauteurs and into the Fond Pasture, Mt Rodney.
Also standing in solidarity with the workers of Grenada was a delegation from Cuba and the Public Services Association (PSA) from the neighbouring island of Trinidad and Tobago.
Speaking with THE NEW TODAY following the ceremony, President of the PSA, which represents 8,000 plus workers, Watson Duke, said, his union was present to give “solidarity to our brothers and sisters in Grenada.”
Duke stated that “it is high time for us to see ourselves as the Caribbean man, same race, (travelling to the) same place on the same trip, on the same ship.
“The issues like pension, increments, contract employment, negotiation and austerity measures that makes cost of living more difficult for us are issues that we are here united on…I am saying that this unity will grow because what the Caribbean needs now is unity”, he said.
“If we unite, then the leaders themselves must have to unite and we are saying we want a better day…it is time that they deal with us justly and fairly,” he added.