The ruling New National Party (NNP) government of Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell has turned to Attorney General, Cajeton Hood for legal options that might be available in dealing with public sector unions on salary increases.
A high level source told this newspaper that the government which is preparing for upcoming general elections wants advise on the options open to it in light of commitments given to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on the Structural Adjustment Programme.
He said the Mitchell administration is not prepared to do anything that will hurt the Fiscal Responsibility Act (FRA) that it has committed to as part of the deal with the Washington-based Fund.
According to the source, one of the options under consideration is to agree to a package with the unions that provides for a deferral of salary increase payments “further down the road”.
Last week, government employees represented by both the Public Workers Union (PWU) and the Grenada Technical and Allied Workers Union (GTAWU) rejected the one-off payment of $1000 as proposed by the administration.
An estimated 500 civil servants assembled at the PWU headquarters to vote against the payment and instructed the joint negotiating team to continue the struggle for a more reasonable package.
In a joint press release issued at the meeting, the PWU and TAWU alluded to the fact that they were prepared to go before Labour Commissioner, Cyrus Griffith to find a resolution to the problem.
“The unions are prepared to continue the dispute resolution procedure and will be available to commence this immediately”, the release said.
“The workers were adamant that a better package is affordable and will be prepared to attain same by any means necessary”, it added.
One day later, the leadership of the public sector unions held a press conference to elaborate on the rejection of the one-off payment of $1000.00.
President General of TAWU, Andre Lewis described the offer as “measly” and pointed out that the workers are prepared to wage a struggle to get a better deal.
“We have been mandated by our members to respond to the Labour Commissioner and the government that the measly $1000 or 14 cents an hour, which would not be placed on your salary but a one-off, would not be accepted and therefore, we are here to inform the nation that the struggle for an improved payout to our members is on-going”, he said.
“…We have indicated in the past that we are all prepared and always prepared to continue making our sacrifices and as such, we look forward to the government recognising and accepting not just in words, but in action, that we ought to be given more for the sacrifices that we have been making,” he added.
PWU’s Vice President, Rachael Roberts told reporters that civil servants met and expressed “full solidarity” with their Negotiating Team in not accepting less than they deserve from the Mitchell government.
“They demonstrated resilience. They demonstrated courage. They demonstrated determination and I call on our members to continue to demonstrate that courage, to continue to demonstrate that resilience and to stand firm and to hold the fort and do not be intimidated. If you stand firm your leaders are stronger and able to negotiate in a more powerful manner on your behalf,” she said.
TAWU’s General Secretary, Bert Patterson who also addressed the media said that what the unions are requesting from government is not impossible to provide.
According to Patterson, the government is itself boasting of the increasing millions of dollars collected in revenue under the Structural Adjustment Programme.
“Based on that information we have made the obvious determination that what we are asking for is in keeping and would cause no harm tothe economy as a whole but what we are asking for is very reasonable and most important affordable,” he said.
At a recent post-Cabinet press briefing, Economic Development Minister, Oliver Joseph announced that the one-off payment of $1000.00 is what the government can do at the moment.
The TAWU President-General responded by reminding the minister that the sacrifices have already been made by the public officers.
“These are the very said workers who have made and continue to make the sacrifices so that the government proudly so can boast of exceeding expectations in terms of profit, in terms of surplus”, Lewis said.
The TAWU boss stressed that 2013 was not part of the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) and should not be put into the salary increase mix.
“Taking into account the fact that the unions have said in the interest of finding a resolution, we are prepared to forego asking for increase for 2013 but to give us the one-off of $3000 for the period 2013 to 2016, despite the fact that the government is on record of having committed itself to paying 1% increase in 2013 and yet still government has been steadfast for reasons best known to itself they are not moving from that $1000…” he said.
The Grenada Union of Teachers (GUT) and bargaining units for the Police and some agricultural workers have reportedly accepted the $1000.00 one-off payment deal with government.