Government’s request to Public sector trade unions in Grenada to accept a wage freeze over the next three years of its so-called homegrown Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) appears to hang in the balance.
Prime Minister and Finance Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell in a national address last year called on the labour movement to accept a wage freeze since it was critical in order to get the support of the Washington-based International Monetary Fund (IMF).
The Prime Minister announced that the IMF has promised to make available to the island an estimated 300 million dollars provided the government take prudent measures to arrest the fiscal situation since the government was currently spending more than it was earning in revenue.
According to the Grenadian leader, 70 cents of every dollar collected by government was being used to pay salaries and wages leaving the administration with virtually little to spend on other areas.
He said that as part of the SAP, there was need for public sector unions to commit to a freeze in wages in an effort to get the support of the IMF.
It appears that a meeting called by the Mitchell government with union representatives last week failed to come up with an agreement on the issue of the wage freeze.
President of the Grenada Union of Teachers (GUT), Lydon Lewis said when the issue of the SAP was first brought to their attention the only thing discussed with the unions of any substance was the lowering of the income tax threshold from $5000 to $3000 monthly.
Lewis disclosed that last week’s meeting with Prime Minister Mitchell failed to come up with an agreement on a wage freeze.
He said GUT is not opposed to government going forward with an IMF programme but “we need to know what it is going to cost the Grenadian worker or the GUT to (go into) in such a programme and that is what we don’t know.’’
The GUT President indicated that at the last meeting, they had asked for some specific details of the agreement which was promised to be sent to them by last week Friday.
The union leader who appeared on the programme, “Sunday’s with George Grant” said he is yet to receive that promised document.
“How could we support a programme that we don’t know about? We are hoping that the information will come. How does that work?’’ he asked.
Lewis said if the GUT is going to accept any SAP for its membership then some critical issues need to be looked at.
He stressed that while the union has no problems with the concept of the Imani Programme, there is need to validate its effectiveness, its role in the private sector and if it is really a job program or a training program.
The GUT president also voiced his union’s concern over retirees being brought back into the public service in significant positions.
He said the membership also has issues with the cost of living.
“How could we be asked to make all these sacrifices when prices are constantly going up?’’ he asked.
Lewis said it is time the Mitchell government approach the union with a serious commitment or proposal informing them of what they are going to do because they are still baffled over what will happen after the three years of the SAP comes to an end.
“We cannot give the Government of Grenada a blank cheque and say just do what you want, freeze wage, freeze increments, freeze everything, increase tax here increase tax there and after three years we do not know what happens,” he added.
Speculation is rife that the trade union movement on the island is split on the SAP with the powerful Grenada Technical & Allied Workers Union, headed by President-General, Chester Humphrey adopting a different position from GUT.
TAWU is said to be suggesting that the trade unions accept the wage freeze in order to avoid Grenada ending up like Barbados where the government has announced the retrenchment of 3, 000 workers in order to deal with a worsening fiscal situation.
TUC insiders have quoted TAWU as saying that “half a loaf is better than no loaves at all” and that it was better to accept the wage freeze and save jobs rather than see workers being put on the breadline.