Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell and the ruling New National Party (NNP) government are facing a potential political nightmare from the public sector unions on the contentious issue of pension and gratuity payments.
The battle lines are clearly drawn with the main combatants being the Prime Minister himself and his handful of Cabinet of Ministers and workers who come from all strata of the Grenadian society including supporters of the very party in government.
As it currently stands the situation has nothing to do with the main opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) and is not driven by a party which the Prime Minister believes is dead and buried and no longer a political threat to him given the back-to-back 15-0 victories at the polls in 2013 and 2018.
The current problem was brought on by the government itself over the manner in which it coerced a number of union leaders to sign on the eve of the March 13, 2018 poll a controversial document which gave the impression that Pension was being restored to public workers following its removal during the era of the 1979-83 Grenada Revolution.
It is clear that the unions were hoodwinked into the deal and an arrangement in which they felt that they had a 25% pension and gratuity accord in keeping with what was in place up to the suspension of the Grenada Constitution with the overthrow of the duly-elected Eric Gairy government on March 13, 1979 by Maurice Bishop and the left-leaning New Jewel Movement (NJM) in a coup d’etat.
It should be noted that the government has never publicly denied that Cabinet Secretary, Beryl Isaac who is no longer the Leader of the Government Negotiating Team (GNT) did fly in the face of the union leaders a document with the 25% proposal before the so-called historic signing of the pension and gratuity deal.
A number of things have happened in recent months including strike action by teachers and public officers, street marches, work to rule by the workers, and the docking of their salaries to affect them especially around the Christmas period.
The issue of the docking of the salaries is seemingly heading for the high court for a ruling based on a decision taken by the Grenada Union of Teachers (GUT) to challenge the deductions from the salaries of teachers.
Several lawyers hold the view that the teachers have a very good case as the government had no legal authority to dip its hands into the salaries of teachers.
The school of thought is that the issue of teachers not showing up for work is a disciplinary matter to be handled by the Public Service Commission (PSC) which is the only lawful body that can rightfully take action against them.
The Prime Minister and his Cabinet of Ministers are not known to have any authority in law to take disciplinary action against public officers in Grenada, Carriacou & Petite Martinique.
The GUT has a representative on the PSC and would be in a position to know if any decision of the sort was taken by the body.
With each and every passing day in 2019, the battle lines are drawing closer towards a major showdown between the contending parties on the pension and gratuity issue.
The announcement by the Principal Associations that there will be no Intercol games this year in light of the current impasse with the Mitchell government should not surprise anyone on the island and can be described as “a dangerous bouncer”.
The decision was virtually predictable and the financial losses of no Intercol could be great for the private sector and busmen, as well as vendors who look forward to the event to help sustain their livelihood.
If the government steps in to hold the games for itself, it is not clear whether the students will take part or stay away in solidarity with their teachers and principals.
THE NEW TODAY believes that the government can easily bring the impasse to an end by activating the court to give a ruling on the contentious issue of whether the 25% being demanded by the public sector unions are in accord with the Constitution.
The 2008-13 Congress government of then Prime Minister Tillman Thomas had made an amendment to the laws governing the Supreme Court to give the Attorney General the prerogative to file a reference to the Court of Appeal for direction to be given to the lower court on matters of contention.
If Dr. Mitchell and the Cabinet of Ministers are serious then the newly installed Attorney General, Darshan Ramdhani should be instructed to move the Court of Appeal to give guidance on the 25% pension and gratuity issue.
This was an option open to both previous office holders – Dr. Lawrence Joseph and Kindra Maturine-Stewart – but was never pursued by them for whatever reason.
However, AG Ramdhani has an early opportunity to prove himself and take the necessary steps to move the Court of Appeal to clear up the pension and gratuity issue not only for this generation but the next generation of public officers.
The decision of the Court of Appeal would be binding on the public sector unions and staff associations, as well as the current government and succeeding administrations as a landmark decision will be given on the controversial issue of pension due to public officers prior to and after 1983.
THE NEW TODAY had suggested last month that the unions also had an option to move the High Court to sit in its Constitutional Jurisdiction to give a ruling on their demands for the 25% for their membership.
This constitutional court can give a quick decision on which is the formula in law to govern pension and gratuity payments and bring an end to the current impasse in the national interest.
The court is the one to resolve this contentious pension and gratuity issue and not the Labour Commissioner or the Minister of Labour.