The National Democratic Congress commends the people of Grenada for the overwhelming support that they have so far given to Public Officers in the struggle for their pension rights as guaranteed by the Constitution.
The numbers who came out in public protest on Tuesday 20th November 2018 sent a clear message to the Government that it is time to act to resolve this impasse.
We thank and commend Bishop Clyde Harvey for his timely intervention in bringing the Government and unions back to the negotiating table. We are however, very disquieted by the Prime Minister’s conduct in the last few days, first jeering at and berating the union leaders in the Parliament and then, on the eve of the resumption of negotiations, attempting to put the public against teachers and public officers, a most reckless move.
The level of openness and the acceptance by the leadership of the unions to dialogue must not be extinguished by arrogance, belligerence, deception and divide and rule tactics. This is a national issue at the core. It must be resolved in a non-political manner that avoids hundreds of teachers, civil servants, police officers and prison officers retiring into poverty after serving our country for over 30 years. Therefore, any attempt to convert this matter into a battle to win cheap political points must be rejected.
The NDC hereby makes it abundantly clear that its support for the workers’ cause is anchored by the fact that Public Sector Pension rights are entrenched in the Constitution and a resolution that preserves workers’ constitutional rights is the only just and fair outcome.
The NDC appreciates Government’s responsibility to maintain fiscal discipline but we do not support its attempt to shield itself behind the Fiscal Responsibility Act, while avoiding its Constitutional obligations to workers. Nothing can trump the Constitution, so a way has to be found.
We have assessed the situation and are satisfied that a resolution that is satisfactory to all can be achieved. Ridiculing union leaders, issuing threats and intimidating workers will only serve to make bad matters worse. It is amazing that Government seems mindless to the fact that the affected workers cut across the political divide in their support.
Moreover, the failure of the government to manage the situation in a manner that promotes goodwill and mutual understanding is having a serious effect on our children’s education as industrial action is prolonged. Threatening to take over the classrooms only adds fuel to the fire.
Furthermore, this is the tourist season and it is indeed regrettable that our visitors have to contend with the spectacle of public protest. This does not augur well for our image and we trust that a solution is soon found so that further public protests are avoided.
The Prime Minister’s display in Monday’s National Address was most distasteful and uncalled for. It smacked of the ranting of an autocrat out of control. We urge the unions, in returning to the new negotiating table, not to be daunted by the Prime Minister’s conduct in the last few days. Rather, go with an open mind and in the spirit of compromise and what is best for the nation. We call on the government to act responsibly by tempering its tone and being willing to compromise around this new table.
We urge Government in the spirit of these new negotiations, to revisit its decision to deduct monies from workers’ salaries. That will go a long way in mending wounds.
The announcement of the setting up of a Pension Secretariat is positive, however it must be provided with the necessary financial and technical support, so that it does not suffer the fate of previous Secretariats set up by this administration.
The Government must act not just fiscally responsibly, but morally so as well, respecting at all times, the legitimate demands of the workers. To act otherwise can only lead to an escalation of protest action and the corresponding economic and other consequences which our country can ill afford.
We wish the parties a speedy and mutually satisfactory resolution so that we may get back to the nation’s business, especially educating our children.
(The above reflects the views of the main opposition National Democratic Congress)