The Grenada Union of Teachers (GUT) is gearing up for a major battle with the eleven-month old New National Party (NNP) government following an announcement in the 2014 budget by Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, Dr. Keith Mitchell that there will be a wage freeze during the implementation of the 3-year Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP).
Speaking to THE NEW TODAY on Tuesday, GUT President Lyden Lewis warned that any attempt by the Prime Minister to freeze salaries of teachers will be met with stiff resistance.
The outspoken Lewis blasted Dr. Mitchell for what he called “unilaterally attempting to freeze salaries of public sector workers for the next three years” even when the unions are already engaged in discussions with the State on salary increases for 2013, 2014 and 2015.
“I don’t think that my membership will accept it (wage freeze)”, he remarked.
Prime Minister Mitchell has hinted that the wage freeze is a necessary prerequisite for the success of the so-called homegrown Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP), which the government is hoping to get the green light for from the Washington-based International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Faced with a massive national debt of EC$2.4 billion, the Mitchell government has been forced to impose some tax measures in order to raise revenue to deal with a monthly budgetary deficit of EC$15 million.
According to Lewis, the GUT has already submitted proposals on fringe benefits for teachers and is currently awaiting a response from the Government Negotiating Team before it makes known its other proposal for salary increases.
He said the statements made in the Budget Presentation on a wage freeze by Prime Minister Mitchell flies in the face of the current negotiations taking place between GUT and the Government Negotiators.
Lewis also commented on reports circulating in the country that several teachers did not receive the promised back pay payment in December and hundreds others have not been paid salaries for the past four month by the Mitchell government.
He said that he himself had been a victim of the back-pay issue and blamed it squarely on incompetent people operating at the Ministry of Education.
He said several of the officers, especially in Personnel and Finance in the Ministry of Education can be accused of dereliction in their duties.
The GUT boss blamed incompetence in the Ministry of Education on the part of some workers for not doing the necessary paper work so that the Ministry of Finance could get the relevant information needed to process the back-pay payment for several teachers.
He said that he received his monies on Monday and expected all other teachers to be paid by the end of the week.
He estimated that 150 teachers did not receive the promised back pay payment by December 9.
“We are confident that most of the teachers will receive their back pay by the end of this week. I don’t think they (government) are stupid enough to stop working on the payment for the remainder”, he added.
Speculation is rife that the GUT Executive members were planning to meet in emergency session at the start of the new school term on Monday to consider what form of industrial action should be taken on the back pay issue.
Lewis ruled out strike action but said the teachers might have engaged in some form of protest action like wearing red armbands.
The GUT President also blamed the manual system now being employed by the Ministry of Education as opposed to a modern computerized system for the failure of government to pay the salaries of some teachers for the past four months.
He said the affected teachers were already in the system but were taken off in August and but back into the system in September but the antiquated system being used failed to process the teachers information to allow them to get salaries for September, October, November and December.
“The Finance section in the Ministry of Education should be blamed and not the Ministry of Finance. The Ministry of Finance (is) getting the information piece by piece. The problem is with the Ministry of Education”, he told THE NEW TODAY.
“There are just people at the Ministry of Education who do not seem to be bothered. I might seem to be beating up on the Ministry of Education but that is the reality”, he said.
The GUT boss was also asked to comment on reports that the Mitchell government had been sending some of the Imani youths to work at the various primary schools around the island.
He admitted that some of the Imanis were put into the school system but were not actually teaching students in the classrooms.
He spoke of the Imanis serving as aids to the teachers but warned that GUT would resist any attempt by government to allow them to take charge of the classroom situation with the nation’s students.
“Any attempt to use the Imanis as regular classroom teacher, it will be strongly objected to by the GUT. It is wrong”, he said.
Lewis claimed that any such action on the part of the government will be a violation of the island’s Labour Code.
He said the Public Service Commission (PSC) is the sole body responsible for appointing teachers to teach in the classroom and that person must possess a certain level of qualification to be exposed to the students.