A showdown is in the making between the Keith Mitchell-led New National Party (NNP) and two of the island’s three public sector unions on a one-off payment for civil servants.
President of the Public Workers Union (PWU), Rachael Roberts has urged the Mitchell government to come up with something more substantial than the $600.00 one-off payment put on the table for the unions to accept for their members.
“This is an election year and workers would take matters into their own hands when the time comes…”, Roberts told reporters at a press conference on Monday.
This is a clear warning to the current rulers that government employees might be inclined to vote against the regime in the upcoming poll expected before year-end.
The vast majority of civil servants reportedly voted against the Congress government of then Prime Minister Tillman Thomas in 2013 to help NNP to its 15-0 clean sweep of the polls.
Roberts and other members of the Joint negotiating team made up of representatives of PWU and the Grenada Technical and Allied Workers Union (GTAWU) assembled at the press briefing held at PWU main office in Tanteen.
The trade union leaders expressed dissatisfaction with the recommendation given to them by Labour Commissioner Cyrus Griffith to accept the $600 one-off payment as proposed by government.
The saga of the one-off payment between government and the public sector unions began in April.
The unions were demanding a one-off payment of $3000.00 to cover the 2013-16 period but government said it could only offer $1000 in light of the ongoing Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) with close monitoring from the Washington-based International Monetary Fund (IMF).
The unions accepted the offer after agreement was reached that more will be paid at a later date given improvements in the fiscal space.
In the negotiations for the additional sums, government is said to have proposed $250 in July, and then $500.00 which were both rejected by the unions.
The $600 that is now on the table came last week in negotiations before the Labour Commissioner.
TAWU’s boss, newly appointed labour senator, Andre Lewis termed the offer as “total disrespect” to the workers.
“We met with the Labour Commissioner last week Wednesday and on Friday we received a recommendation, if one may call it a recommendation from the Labour Commissioner, which basically said, look, just accept what the government has offered, just accept what the government has said without any reason, anything much said at all…”, he said.
“… As you would know … we are at a stage where we are discussing the “more”, the more which came out of an agreement in April earlier this year which indicated that we would meet sometime in June/July to discuss how much more that the government will give to us for our sacrifices (during the three years of the Structural Adjustment Programme)…”, he added.
According to Sen. Lewis, the Labour Commissioner’s recommendation has fell “very, very, very short” of the expectations of the workers and their bargaining agents.
Lewis is convinced that the Mitchell-led government can give much more to the workers than they are offering at the moment.
“…We know that they can do much better than that. We know that Supplemental Budget (of EC$86.7 million) has been passed. We know that monies have been spent left, right and centre.
“We are in an election period but when it comes to the workers to get something more, this is where we seem to have had the difficulties and therefore we used this opportunity to bring this to the attention of our members, to bring to the attention of our employers once again that workers need to be treated better…”.
Like Sen. Lewis, the PWU boss believes that government can give more to public officers given the increase in the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as often boasted by the regime.
Roberts said: “Government boast of a 5% GDP increase and how are they saying to us that they cannot afford more? We know the wastage that occurs…we know that government is paying huge amount of monies to persons.
“We are not upset about what they are paying to one person – we are saying if you pay it to that person, you must also treat the workers equally. We are also saying to government that we are the ones carrying the burden of this country to ensure that the economic space, the fiscal space that you speak about improve and therefore we should share in the benefits,” she added.
Roberts was clearly referring to the EC$1000.00 a month increase in salary that was given in 2015 to Kisha Alexander-Grant, the Press Secretary to Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell.
The female PWU boss pleaded with the NNP regime to give workers something more in this election year.
“We beg of our government, we beg our Prime Minister, we beg of our Labour Commissioner to do better and we ask the government negotiating team to give workers what they deserve.
“We ask for more and we are negotiating fairly and we know our government is not negotiating fairly by putting $600 on the table, and we plead with them, treat workers the way that they should be treated.