Several doctors practicing in New Jersey earned their medical degrees abroad at St. George’s University on the island of Grenada, in the West Indies. Now, their children are following in their footsteps as the next wave of physicians to be educated at the international school.
Founded in 1977, SGU was the first private medical school in the Caribbean. Today, it is the leader in first-time scores on the U. S. Licensing Examinations.
“There are some fine medical schools outside of the country,” said Paul Verona Sr., a graduate of SGU’s historical Charter Class of 1981. “SGU has really flourished and is now probably one of the best. If you have to go outside of the country, I think St. George’s is probably the best school in the world to go to. It has a very good reputation. The school has developed and the buildings are gorgeous. It’s very competitive out there as well.”
Verona worked in East Orange General Hospital and Meadowlands Hospital in Secaucus. He is now in private practice in Milburn doing radiology. His son, Paul Verona Jr., currently is studying medicine at SGU.
“It makes me feel very old,” Verona said. “It seems like just yesterday I was down there as a student and now my son is there. I’m very proud of him because it’s a difficult school to get into. I think you get a very well-rounded education, so I’m very happy for my son. It’s a very healthy lifestyle down there and a nice environment to study medicine. I think when he makes it through and comes back here he will be very prepared to practice medicine in the 21st century.”
Verona Jr., 27, is enjoying his time at SGU so far, although he had not initially planned to go into the medical field.
“I actually started out working towards my Ph.D. in clinical anatomy (at St. George’s) and after working with patients realized that I belonged in the medical field interacting with people,” he said. “I never visited Grenada prior, but I had heard wonderful things from my father and others, and fell in love with the school on my first visit. At the moment I have an added interest in pediatric neurology. I would love to work with my father. Even though we will most likely be in different fields I will still utilize his expertise in radiology.”
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- Opposition Senators call on the Minister of Labour to intervene with the impasse involving Public Workers and Teachers RE: Pension and Gratuity negotiations The increased industrial activity by Public Officers and Teachers warrants an immediate response by the Ministry of Labour to seek a resolution with the negotiations on Pension and Gratuity between the Government negotiating team and the unions named in the memorandum of understanding (MOU), signed on the eve of the last general election in Grenada. In accordance with section (45) Part VIII (8) "Disputes Procedures" of the Labor Relations Act, the Minister of Labour can be brought into a trade dispute as a mediator promoting a settlement, if the negotiations of the said dispute have failed to reach an agreement. The Act outlines the steps to be taken in section (45) subsection (2) if intervention by the Minister is deemed necessary. Concerning the current industrial situation involving Public Workers, we believe that it has become necessary for such action to be taken and we call on the Minister of Labour to intervene and initiate a mediation meeting involving all parties of this serious dispute. Should this situation escalate into a full-blown strike, it will no doubt have implications for the Government, Private Sector and the said Public officers who, based on their current situation, are already described as officers retiring into poverty. While we agree that the economic situation of the Country must be taken into account when negotiating wages and benefits for Public Officers, we do not share the view that the Fiscal Responsibility Act should be used as the basis to begin these negotiations. We also call for the repeal and replacement of the Fiscal Responsibility Act, Comprehensive labour reforms, including improvements to the current attrition policy among other measures, that may be counterproductive to good relations between the Government of Grenada and all its Public officers. We hope, that a solution will be found as soon as possible. (Submitted by Senator Ron Redhead of the National Democratic Congress)
- Statement by Mrs. Beryl Isaac, Chairman, Government Pension Engagement Committee to give an “Update and to Clarify the Issue of Pension Restoration and Reform” Good evening ladies and gentlemen, the Government Pension Engagement Committee (GPEC) finds it necessary to update the nation and Government employees in particular at this time, on the issues of pension restoration and reform and more specifically, the issue of gratuity. We wish to assure you that Government values and recognises the work of all public officers and has, as a matter of policy, made every effort to improve the pay, benefits and working conditions for its employees. Government however can only do so within the limits of what the economy can afford. Our country has just emerged from a successful structural adjustment programme with the help of the international community and the sacrifices of our people. Government was able to achieve this success without the loss of a single job in the public service, unlike in the private sector and in other countries like Barbados, where hundreds of workers were retrenched and private companies carried out their own structural adjustments. Recall what happened in our local banking, telecommunications, construction and hotel sectors where hundreds of workers were sent home. In recognition of the sacrifices made by all workers, Government took the following policy measures to assist working people and their families: • Removed personal income tax on retrenchment pay. • Removed income tax on pensions including NIS pensions. • Lowered the income tax from 15% to 10% on earnings between $36,000 and $60,000 per annum, thereby easing the pressure on lower income workers. • Increased the social wage by boosting spending on house repair assistance to the lowest paid workers and the rural poor. • Increased seed payments to the elderly. • Increased spending to help needy students. • To date, Government has awarded scholarships to the value of $48.49 million. In addition, Government took several measures specific to public officers, namely: • It paid all of the retroactive pay and increments in addition to salary increases amounting to over $110 million dollars between 2013 -2018. Note that in the case of Barbados, public officers there had their salary frozen for 10 years and only received an increase of 5% after the general elections. • In January 2018, Government increased the pay of workers in the public service by 3% and an additional 4% will be paid in January 2019. Government’s current annual wage bill for public officers is $278.7 million which will climb to $287.6 million in 2019. • Government brought on to the permanent staff, 300 plus teachers and 139 nurses, which has significantly increased the cost of the annual wage bill. It is against this backdrop that Government formulated and announced its intention to restore and reform pensions to public officers. Therefore, Government did not appeal the judgement in the Hermilyn Armstrong case. It accepted the judgement of the High Court and paid Mrs. Armstrong her pension and attendant benefits as directed by the Court. Government paid those workers, who like Mrs. Armstrong joined the Service between 4th April, 1983 and 22nd February, 1985. Only two months ago, Government paid out over $7 Million dollars to those persons. Thus, Government has met all of its legal obligations on the matter of Pension restoration. Now where are we on the pension reform? It is very important to be clear that workers joining the public service on or after 22nd February, 1985 are only legally entitled to the contributory pension from the NIS and no other. Notwithstanding, the Prime Minister declared that his Government was committed to enhancing the NIS pension for those public officers and the following agreement was reached with the public sector unions and staff associations: (1). Any worker who joined the public service between 4th April, 1983, which was subsequently changed to 22nd February, 1985, and 31st December, 2018, and is permanent in an established post, who meets the relevant criteria, Government guarantees that the pensionable benefits, inclusive of the NIS, shall be 70% of his or her last salary. (2). Government will endeavour to establish a new contributory pension plan for those workers (Established and Un-established) who will join the service after 31st December, 2018. EXPLAINING THE ISSUE OF GRATUITY In the Memorandum of Understanding, it was agreed that Government will restore and reform pensions. After much discussion, Government proposed to pay 98% of a worker’s pension monthly and 2% pre-paid pension as gratuity. The 2% pre-paid pension (commonly referred to as a gratuity) is repayable over 12.5 years. Of course, the worker always has the option to receive his or her full pension monthly. In such a case, no gratuity is paid. Gratuity is not a payment from the employer in addition to pension. Gratuity is an advanced payment on pension. It is equivalent to and the same as a salary advance. Under the 1958 pension formula, a worker had the option to receive an advance payment on his or her pension of 25% thus reducing his or her monthly pension payment to 75%. For example, if a public officer’s pension worked out to be $2000 a month, and he or she took a gratuity of 25%, his or her pension will be reduced to $1500 a month. The gratuity (prepayment of a pension) will then be $500 per month X 12 months X 12.5 years, which is equal to $75,000 payable at the time of retirement. Preliminary costings have shown that if Government were to agree to the demands of the unions and associations, this will add upwards of $21 million annually to the payroll, bringing the cost of pensions to approximately $74 million annually. This provision of the 1958 Pension Act must be reformed as the state cannot finance this cost. Also, this cost seriously breaches the Fiscal Responsibility Act. Any pension plan must have two basic features – it must be sustainable and affordable. Let us be clear, the gratuity payment of $75,000 in the above example, has to be repaid by the retiree through monthly deductions of $500 for 12.5 years from his or her pension. This is why when a gratuity is paid, the monthly pension of the worker is reduced. What the Government is proposing is to pay 98% of a worker’s monthly pension and 2% as gratuity. In other words, the public officer will receive a monthly pension of $1960 while under the unions’ demand, that pension will be reduced to $1500 per month. After 12.5 years, having repaid Government the gratuity, the worker will revert to his/her full pension. AGE OF RETIREMENT HAS TO BE REFORMED The other dispute arising during these negotiations is the question of when pensions should be paid. All over the world, the age of retirement has been increasing - in Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica, the pensionable age is 65; Dominica is 62. Grenada is one of the few countries where the retirement age remains 60 years. Several actuarial reports have pointed to the need to increase this age to at least 65 years. In the reform of our pensions, the State cannot afford to pay pensions to anyone under the age of 60 years. For purposes of the reform, Government proposes to maintain that a public officer can retire after 26 and 2/3 years but will receive his or her pension at age 60 or the age prescribed in law. Government proposes further that at the point of retirement, it can afford to make a prepayment of 2% of a worker’s pensionable entitlement as gratuity. In the context of Grenada’s current economic position, this is what is affordable and sustainable and falls within the fiscal expenditure rules. The consequence of breaching these rules will be very grave for Grenada and will result in the loss of significant amounts of concessionary loans and grants. The national economy will then be reversed, affecting growth and employment and ultimately threatening the employment of the said public officers. The Government Pension Engagement Committee wishes to remind the leadership of the public sector unions that their respective collective agreements and the Labour Relations Act, set out clear procedures for the resolution of disputes. To take irregular industrial actions without following the procedures laid down are indeed unlawful and a breach of good industrial relations practice. Government appeals to public officers and their respective Unions and Associations to be understanding and responsible. We call on the union leaders who walked off the negotiating table on 3rd October, 2018 to return. We can only resolve this problem through constructive dialogue. We look forward to reaching a comprehensive agreement in the interest of our Public Officers, and our beloved country.
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