The seeds for the current impasse on the issue of pension and gratuity for public officers were sown many years ago by the politicians who have ruled Grenada over the years.
It was the late Sir Eric Matthew Gairy, the first real labour leader in Grenada who had the foresight to ensure that a pension and gratuity plan was put in place for public officers when Independence came into force on February 7, 1974.
The left-leaning People’s Revolutionary Government (PRG) of late Prime Minister Maurice Bishop purported to affect the pension act that was guaranteed by the Constitution when it launched the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) in 1983.
The PRG had suspended the Grenada Constitution after the March 13, 1979 coup d’etat against the elected Gairy government and the pension as provided for was affected when the NIS kicked in.
The Bishop regime had selected a committee, headed by Trinidad attorney-at-law, the late Alan Alexander to draft a new constitution for Grenada.
No one knew for sure what would have been included in the new PRG Constitution on the issue of pension for public officers.
However, when the constitution was restored in 1985 the existing laws governing Pension of public officers kicked back in as any other law on pension, once in conflict with the Constitution had to take second place as the Constitution will always prevail.
Unfortunately, Grenada was now faced with a situation in which the number of public officers on the payroll had swelled tremendously over the years from the pre-Eric Gairy era.
The PRG had promoted a state-controlled model of development and as such the state became a major employer of labour in the country.
The collapse of the revolutionary government did not see a reversal in the activities of the state in hiring and the build-up of workers on the public purse continued virtually unabated.
Late Prime Minister Herbert Blaize in the face of a bloated civil service attempted to reduce the numbers on the payroll with the so-called “Golden Handshake” in the 1984-1990 period in order to try and reduce the numbers and to bring it in line with the capacity of the state to honour its commitments to the workforce on a monthly basis.
The Blaize policy was literally thrown out the door and discarded with the advent of Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell at the helm of government as he used not only government but the state-owned enterprises to provide employment for persons in exchange for election votes.
The point is that under the Gairy period in government the public service was manageable and could afford to pay pension and gratuity for an estimated 1000 to 1500 civil servants but the number has risen to an estimated 5, 500 and with much higher salaries and obviously a higher pension figure.
THE NEW TODAY disagrees with the position being advanced by PM Mitchell that government is not under any legal obligation to make gratuity payments to public officers.
The court has already ruled on this in past cases to the extent that there is a ruling which states that a new pension formula can be worked out with public officers once it does not place anyone at a disadvantage from whatever is guaranteed to them under the provisions of the constitution.
This newspaper believes that the Prime Minister was under the mistaken belief that only those workers who were in the service between 1983 and 1985 were entitled to pension payments and no one else and the payment given to them earlier in the year brought an end to pension payments to public officers.
It is clear that Prime Minister Mitchell felt that with this now out of the way that he was moving to the next stage which was reform of the current provisions guaranteeing pension for public officers to bringing it in line with the Fiscal Responsibility Act (FRA) forced onto him by the Washington-based International Monetary Fund (IMF) as part of the Structural
Adjustment Programme (SAP).
The unions took the correct position of not entertaining discussion on a reduction of the 25% formula for their members.
The Prime Minister could have avoided the past month of industrial crisis in the country by agreeing immediately to the 25% formula but coming up with a staggered payment plan for all public officers who qualified for pension as not everyone is leaving the service in one block.
The President-General of the Technical & Allied Workers Union (TAWU), Senator Andre Lewis announced to the nation in an address last week that in brokered talks the unions were given assurances that Dr. Mitchell had agreed to the 25% payment.
It is not clear why this information was not communicated to the unions in the official talks that took place afterwards with the Government Team of Negotiators and the Union leadership.
THE NEW TODAY has no reason to doubt Sen. Lewis as PM Mitchell has not denied this assertion at all.
If anything, the Prime Minister has incensed the workers by his national address on Monday night when he indicated that government will not be paying the 25% as being demanded by the unions.
As the Prime Minister who has been in charge of the nation’s affairs for 18 plus of the last 23 years, he had more than ample time to go before the Privy Council as the final appellate court for Grenada to challenge many of the past court rulings on pension for public officers.
Dr. Mitchell is out of time and cannot be allowed to hide under the FRA which cannot override the pension provisions of the Constitution.
The reality is that the country cannot sustain pension for public officers under the current construct and the unions and government should start talking about the creation of a Pension Fund as gone are the days when one can rely solely on the revenue of the state as this is clearly unsustainable.
A pension fund should also be put in place for all statutory bodies to avoid state intervention when the time comes to pay the workers what is rightfully due to them.