As he graced the Upper House of Parliament for the very first time, the newly installed Labour representative, Senator Andre Lewis laid down his Legislative Agenda before President of the Senate, Chester Humphrey, his former boss at the powerful Technical & Allied Workers Union (TAWU).
Sen. Lewis, the current President of the Grenada Trade Union Council (GTUC) took his place at last Friday’ sitting of Senate at the Grenada Trade Centre at Morne Rouge, St. George’s.
The new Senator who replaced ex-General Secretary of the trade union movement, Raymond Roberts, outlined his priorities for the new few months that he will remain in the face of the expected dissolution of Parliament very soon for fresh general elections.
He would like to see changes made to the rules which prevent Senators from introducing bills for debate in Parliament.
According to Sen. Lewis, a way should be found to bring bills either through Private Members Bills or consultation.
Stating that this is one of the avenues to introduce bills in Parliament, he said it is also possible to do so through “the social dialogue mechanism” in which the government can bring the bill once there is agreement on the outside of the House through a process of dialogue.
Sen. Lewis also called for certain legal gaps in the dispute resolution procedure to be addressed.
He said: “Outside of the Essential Services if a matter is not resolved at the level of the work place and then you go to the Ministry of Labour and it is not resolved, there is no mandatory process to be followed and ….for the unions that have challenges it leads to a very unfair disadvantage for the workers – they are not able to get the justice that is needed. So, we need to address this and this would be one of the legislative agenda that will be addressed”.
This is an obvious reference to the manner in which the Grenada Breweries Limited locked out workers a few years ago after a protracted strike called by TAWU.
According to Sen. Lewis, one of the issues on his list of agenda relates to legislation to wipe out the scourge of sexual harassment at the work place.
He also identified another as the issue of termination allowances for workers which at the moment stands at one week.
“Could you imagine the company that is sending home employees through no fault of theirs? A worker who (has) given 25 and 30 years of service and who (has) been told by the employer that (for) whatever reason I want to improve my profit, I may have challenges but I want to improve my profit…you have to go home..”, he remarked.
The TAWU boss noted that under the existing law it makes provision for one week for each year of service.
“…It’s something that we need to address, that is a commitment that we give”, he said.
The new Labour Senator stressed that the time has come to enact into domestic legislation all those conventions the island has signed onto at the level of the International Labour Organisation (ILO).
“…For too long our governments have gone to this international organisation, sign onto conventions and refused or have failed so far to sign their names to domestic legislation, domestic law…I want to pursue this,” he explained.
The strengthening of legislation dealing with violence against women is another issue that is on the agenda.
Sen. Lewis said: “We know this is a fact, we didn’t start today but we have a duty and an obligation to end violence against our women folks.
“We are boasting about the ratio of women folks in terms of our leadership and we must be proud of this but we must do everything to ensure that we do not only demonstrate this to the camera so the world can see us but we put systems in place to ensure that it cannot take place at the home and if it takes place at the home, justice must be done and justice must be done swiftly but fairly,” he added.
The Labour Senator served notice that the issue of the regularisation of public officers and the restoration of pension are items on his priority list.
He said, “We have colleagues working in the service for over 20 something years who are not regularised – they cannot approach a financial institution and get the necessary assistance because their tenure is not secured.
“We have the same thing in the Private Sector where workers are on contract for years upon years upon years, doing the same work as the permanent worker, even working harder because you know why if that contract worker slips up, it is felt that (he) can be more easily dismissed…so he has to work 10 times harder and he has less benefits to get …we must address this issue.
Lewis went on: “…The issue of pension restoration is something that must be addressed, not by lip service but must be addressed in practice.
“The Grenada Trade Union Council will like to call for the solidarity of this house…call upon this honourable house to join us in a call, a call that was made public on May Day 2017, a call that calls for us to call upon all parliamentarians who went into Parliament after April of 1983 to freeze their pension or put on hold their pension until pension is restored to all public officers.
“We ask for your solidarity…we are not saying to give up the pension. Workers who have worked 35 years go home and retire into abject poverty. We are sure, we are not saying that it is the only thing that is required to solve this issue but we are sure that if we demonstrate this solidarity and we call upon all of us to act upon that speedily, lock us up in this room and tell us do not leave until we solve this issue because my pension is on hold, we will find a solution…”.
71-year old Prime Minister Mitchell has given a commitment to solve the pension issue before leaving frontline politics to leave this behind as one of his legacies.