The impasse between the Keith Mitchell-led government and two public sector unions in Grenada could affect the future of trade unionism on the island.
This is the belief of Public Relations Officer (PRO) of the Public Workers Union (PWU), Brian Grimes who was speaking Monday in an exclusive interview with THE NEW TODAY newspaper.
PWU along with the Technical and Allied Workers Union (TAWU) have rejected a government offer of a one-off payment of $1000.00 for civil servants for 2014, 2015 and 2016.
The two unions have countered with a one-off payment of $3000.00 to be paid in installments.
Grimes told this newspaper it is not so much the money involved but the principle of how the process is being unfolded between the parties.
He suggested that the posturing of the administration on the issue does not look positive for trade unions in the future.
“Apart from the $1000 versus $3000 saga, this issue must be taken very seriously because as we see right now, collective bargaining is under threat. One of the most fundamental principles of trade unionism is collective bargaining and which entails movement from both parties, a genuine good faith interest (in) trying to get on a mutually beneficial ground”, he said.
According to Grimes, the Mitchell government has not been negotiating “in good faith” and is refusing to make adjustments to its position.
“…This is very frustrating for both unions – PWU and TAWU”, he said.
Grimes was very critical of Labour Minister Oliver Joseph whom he accused of showing nothing but a high level of bias towards the government in trying to resolve the impasse.
“…What makes this process more of a charade is that we have reached labour resolution where we have to meet with the Minister of Labour.
The Minister of Labour clearly would have shown from his appearance on (media) programmes and by (his) utterances to the media that he has a clear bias towards government”, he said.
“This, we feel is disingenuous and we see that as very dangerous … as it relates to collective bargaining process and trade unionism on a whole”, he added.
The regime in St. George’s has been insisting that it cannot afford to pay anything more to public officers since it would disrupt the progress being made in the Structural Adjustment Programme that is being done in conjunction with the Washington-based International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Government officials have maintained that based on the Fiscal Responsibility Act (FRA), it cannot move from $1000 to $3000 as demanded by the unions.
It is arguing that if the FRA legislation is not followed, the economy could be plunged back into chaos.
Grimes said this legislation cannot be justified since it does not take into consideration the rewarding of public officers for the sacrifices made as part of the deal to sign onto the Structural adjustment including a wage freeze for three years.
“The Fiscal Responsibility legislation, we see that as a very unjust law…(the) law does not mean that it is justified, it means it is legal but it is not justified and as far as we are concerned, it’s very unjustified.
“The government on the eve of negotiations with the unions where they know they had an obligation to reward public officers for the period of the structural adjustment, passed a law which simply handcuffed the union as far as the request they can make for that period and releases the government of any significant obligation to those workers. We see that as fundamentally unjust and it is an infringement on the sacrosanct collective bargaining process.
Grimes gave full support to the leaders of both PWU ad TAWU on the way they are handling the negotiations with the government team.
Describing the two as “very responsible”, the PWU executive member referred to his own President as “a man who sits in Parliament and he understands the inner working of government” and Lewis as someone who has an “intricate knowledge of what the government requires to pass the test that the IMF offers and also the capacity of government to pay such”.
“There is not a question in (my) mind and as a member of the movement that the government is fully capable of fulfilling a better offer to public officers,” he added.
Grimes reiterated the position of the trade union movement that its members remain committed to being Social Partners with the government on national development.
However, he said it must be clearly understood that philosophically the unions believe for there to be national development, there must be empowerment of workers and of the people of the country.
He disclosed that the union leadership will soon convene a meeting with the rank and file to take a final decision on the issue with government.
“That meeting would be extremely decisive. It is there we would decide if the workers will, for lack of a better word, swallow their pride or their common sense and take the offer and if they will stand up and reject the offer and take industrial action,” he said.
According to Grimes, an employee of the Customs Department, the future of Trade Unionism is at stake in Grenada and urged members to stand firm.
“If public officers do not understand the need for them to continue to reject this offer, we have to continue to educate them as to why because this is not a money matter. This is a matter of principle and this is a matter of the survival of trade unionism in Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique,” he said.