Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Dr. Keith Mitchell is once again seeking to engage the three public sector unions in further talks as they have turned down a proposal coming from the one-year old cash-strapped government of the New National Party (NNP) to accept a wage freeze during the life of the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) that was implemented at the start of the year.
Although two of the unions, the Public Workers Union (PWU) and the Grenada Technical and Allied Workers Union (TAWU) have submitted to government a ten point counter proposal, nothing much is forthcoming from the other union, the Grenada Union of Teachers (GUT).
One of the proposals submitted by PWU and TAWU calls for a deferral of submissions of proposals for salary increases over the three-year period of SAP, and within the last three months of the programme the unions would then submit proposals for wages.
Late last week, Dr. Mitchell told a television newscast that while his government is not happy with the response coming from the unions, the administration sees it as the basis for serious negotiations which he believes can lead to a final conclusion.
Government’s move to implement the SAP until 2016 is to correct the fiscal imbalance facing the local economy.
By way of letter written to the public sector unions dated January 31, government made a formal request to the public sector unions to accept a wage freeze on salaries and increments for the three years of the SAP.
It has finally been made known that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) wants to be satisfied that the Public Sector Unions have agreed to having a wage freeze during the three years of the SAP.
This was disclosed by Minister of Trade and Economic Development Oliver Joseph during a television program last week Wednesday.
Minister Joseph spoke of the demand coming from the IMF during initial discussions that were held with government officials.
“That discussion has taken place with the IMF and the government when it looked at the issues of the wage freeze for example, with the public servants and the government announced there would be no increase (of salaries) during the three years of the program, the IMF said… that’s fine for the government to say but it would be better in giving them greater comfort if there is a signed agreement between the public sector unions and the government,” he said.
Minister Joseph disclosed that government is still awaiting word from GUT.
The teachers’ body has just completed a series of meetings with its members around the island and formulated its position on SAP.
GUT is opposed to retrenchment and wants the Mitchell government to review among other things the controversial Imani programme.
Minister Joseph told the host of the programme that government might be forced to proceed and sign the Letter of Intent without the unions signing onto the deal.
“The government will sign the letter of intent because the letter of intent explains the revenue measures you intend to take to increase the revenue, and the areas you intend to cut… that should be done shortly, very shortly because the longer we take to sign it, the longer we take to get the resources that was promised,” he said.
Government announced that it would receive $100M as financial support in each of the three years of the SAP.
Presidents of the PWU and TAWU Adrian Francis and Chester Humphrey respectively on the same program with Minister Joseph publicly stated their opposition to the wage freeze.
“We have said categorically no to a freeze in wages and salaries, and also a freeze to increments for all of the workers we represent,” Francis said.
The PWU president said by sacrificing increments it would create a serious blow to the membership.
Workers earning above $3000 monthly are already called upon to pay personal income tax.
Humphrey said it is the hope of everyone that the SAP succeeds and once it succeeds they would embark upon negotiations for salary increases.
While not being opposed to the government taking measures to correct the fiscal imbalance, GUT officials are seeking clarity and what exactly the SAP has to offer.
GUT President, Lyden Lewis made it clear that his union is not opposed to the SAP but that workers just need to know that the scarifies they are making is worthy and that it would be valued at the end of the three years of the programme.
“We would want to know what the comprehensive document is all about. What is in it that will keep our workers for the next three years in terms of the sacrifices they would have to make. And until and unless we are satisfied and convince that we are aware of what it entails, we would not be able to give government our blessings to go forward with it.” he remarked
First Vice President of GUT, Marvin Andall articulated the need for the union to get full disclosure from government about the content of SAP.
Andall said workers need to know what it is Grenada is giving up as has been the case in every other country that has instituted an IMF programme.
“I do not believe that they (IMF) will make a special exception for Grenada,” he quipped