President of the Grenada Union of Teachers (GUT), Lydon Lewis has scoffed at claims made by Communications & Works Minister, Gregory Bowen that the trade unions in the country are in 90% agreement on issues relating to salary increases for the period 2013-16 with government.
Lewis was approached on the issue by THE NEW TODAY following the weekly Post-Cabinet press briefing that featured Minister Bowen.
He told this newspaper that after listening to the senior government minister, he can state categorically that there is not any such agreement on the table and would await a meeting scheduled for Wednesday (two days ago) to be informed on which trade union had made this 90% agreement.
Government has dropped hints that it wanted the public sector unions in Grenada to agree to a wage freeze for the next three years.
Apart from GUT, the two other public sector unions on the island are the Public Workers Union (PWU) headed by Adrian Francis and the Grenada Technical & Allied Workers Union (TAWU) of which Chester Humphrey is the President-General.
Minister Bowen was asked at the press briefing for an update on the Letter of Intent to be signed with the Washington-based International Monetary Fund (IMF) as part of the self-styled homegrown Structural Adjustment Programme to arrest the severe financial and economic crisis affecting the island.
The eleven-month-old Keith Mitchell-led New National Party (NNP) government in St. George’s has failed to keep its promise to sign the much talked about Letter, which is a key component of the programme.
Bowen confirmed that the agreement has not been signed and government was hopeful of doing so in a matter of weeks.
He said there was no particular reason responsible for the delay in signing the agreement, which should have been at the end of November.
He added that Permanent in the Ministry of Finance, Timothy Antoine and his deputy, Mike Sylvester both visited Washington “to finalise a lot of things and they’re back and right now we’re looking at two aspects of it basically to get the unions and to come off and say that at what level we expect the increase in wages to be”.
“Of course the IMF would want some guaranteed statement from the union to say well we would hold wages at this 0 or .1% as the case, but very small”, he said.
When asked what would happens if the trade unions rejected government’s proposals, Bowen responded: “Two things could really happen, You could go straight into this (IMF agreement) and make a commitment without your partners and then everyone would have to abide by that, but we have been consulting with persons throughout, and we have had the sentiment of the trade unions that they support the programme.
“All we have to do now is concretise and finalise it after the
Permanent Secretaries (Antoine and Sylvester) would have come in only one week ago … so whatever development (with the visit to the IMF) would be brought and discussed with the trade union again early this week, tomorrow (Wednesday)”, he said.
According to Bowen, “a lot of discussions have gone on already and agreement (has) already been reached – nearly 90% of all the things that they would have discussed already”.
“So I think there is a limited side to it that they would be discussing tomorrow”, he added.
The GUT President has already stated publicly that he will not be rushed into signing any deal with government despite of whatever commitment it might have to make with the IMF.
“So the Prime Minister has his deadlines, fine, we understand that, but the GUT would not be pressured into making any hurried decision by the Prime Minister or anybody,” Lewis told the media during a news conference in 2013.