THE NEW TODAY can report that the island’s trade unions are gearing up for a fight with the Keith Mitchell-led New National Party (NNP) government on the controversial issue of pension payment for civil servants.
According to well-placed sources, the government would be told on Labour Day in no uncertain terms to stop paying politicians any pension until they rectify the pension issue with the island’s estimated 5500 civil servants.
A source who asked not to be named told this newspaper that a resolution to this effect was agreed upon and would be read out at the traditional Labour Day celebrations on May 1.
He said this would be one of the main messages that the workers will give on the day to Labour Minister, Oliver Joseph to take back to the Cabinet of Ministers.
“We feel and quite rightfully so that the government should stop paying its members any pension in future until agreement is reached on paying pension also to public officers”, he remarked.
According to the source the resolution is not aimed primarily at the NNP regime but also the main opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) of former Finance Minister, Nazim Burke.
He said the public officers intend to use the pension issue as a “bargaining chip” with the two major political parties in the country with general election looming.
“Public officers are the ones making the most sacrifices with the Structural Adjustment Programme right now but the politicians are the ones going home with the pension money at the end of the day. This is not right”, he remarked.
“Whether it is NNP or NDC it is only talk from them on the issue of our pension. Enough is enough. Time for the ole talk to stop. No more paying of lip service on the pension… give us something concrete in writing, give us something to hold in our hands”, he said.
The source pointed out that the unions are open to discussions with government on the issue in order to see “concrete proposals” put to them on resolving this long-outstanding issue.
He spoke of Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, Dr. Keith Mitchell once dropping strong hints that he would like to see the unions representing public officers put forward their own proposals to government on the pension issue.
He described the move as “a ploy” by the Prime Minister to play for time on pension payment and suggested that “the ball is in the court of government and they should put something first before us and then we would respond”.
The issue of pension due to civil servants has always been a contentious issue following the decision taken by the 1979-83 leftist People’s Revolutionary Government (PRG) of slain Prime Minister Maurice Bishop to establish the National Insurance Scheme (NIS).
The PRG proclaimed a People’s Law that outlawed pension to civil servants who joined the public service after 1983.
About two years ago, the high court ruled that the PRG law was unconstitutional and null and void and effectively restored pension payments for civil servants.