Bros & Sis: It is a distinct pleasure and honour for me once again to address you on International Workers Day otherwise known as ‘May Day’.
Today, May 1st is recognised as International Workers Day which symbolises the struggles of the international labour movement.
May 1st is also a historic day for the Indian community in Grenada and is recognised as Indian Arrival Day, that is, the Day the Indians came to Grenada as indentured servants after the abolition of slavery.
GTUC congratulates our Indian brothers and sisters on this important day and for their contribution to the development of our country.
Bros & Sis, we must always remember those workers, activists and trade union leaders who were killed so we can enjoy International Workers Day. We must call to mind those in Chicago who in 1886 lost their lives in the Haymarket Square Massacre while demonstrating for an eight hour work day. Those were the days when working men and women had to work for an employer for as long as 14 to 16 hours a day.
The Chicago riots resulted in 7 union leaders being sentenced to death while the eighth was imprisoned. 4 leaders were hanged, 1 committed suicide and 2 were re-sentenced to prison. In 1893 after spending 7 years in jail, the 3 imprisoned leaders were pardoned.
The Chicago workers in 1886 paid the price for workers to be free from slave labour, free from exploitation and injustices and most of all, free from long hours of work. To the workers who struggled, to those who risked their lives, to the leaders who died and those who were imprisoned that we could enjoy the benefit of an 8 hour work day, we say thank you from the bottom of our hearts.
The Theme of this Year’s May Day is “Championing the survival of workers in a period of economic crisis and a Structural Adjustment Programme.” This theme you will agree is indeed opportune given our present economic and financial situation coupled with a 3-year Structural Adjustment Programme and the resultant challenging situation coming there from.
We are now in the sixth year of the global economic and financial crisis that has been the worst depression ever experienced by mankind. This crisis has battered global economies resulting in severe challenges including high debt, high unemployment, low growth and major fiscal problems. However, in spite of stimulation of many economies, countries have remained stagnated with their economies realizing minimal growth.
Those mostly affected are the millions of workers who have lost their jobs and continue to be jobless. Temporary and precarious jobs are the order of the day leading to an increase in poverty in both developed and developing countries.
Our labour movement wants to see greater strategies for addressing the current situation. We want to see deliverance of jobs and more jobs. We strongly feel that emphasis must be placed on the following areas including, new investment initiatives, job creation, skills training and re-training and small business development, agro-industries and information technology.
The International Labour Organisation has been recommending that a response to the crisis must focus on creating jobs, protecting workers and stimulating economic recovery.
Public Services International (PSI) in a communication stated and I quote” the growing trend to part-time, temporary or on- call work affects the most vulnerable workers in society. They are the first to be laid –off. They cannot count on getting enough hours of work to pay the bills. For them and their families precarious work means a precarious existence. PSI is further calling for initiatives to replace precarious work with decent family supporting jobs.
Bros & Sis, we must emphasise the importance of employment and decent work for the recovery of our economies. Putting people back to work is critical. It is only when people have work and money to spend on goods and services that we could get out of this crisis.
Our country is no different from other countries. We too have been experiencing severe economic difficulties just as most other countries. Issues of high unemployment of 33.5 %, high debt of E.C. $ 2.4 billion, poverty of 37.7 %, low growth and productivity, increase in expenditure levels, decrease in revenues, financing gap of approximately $15 million per month have all placed tremendous strain on our economy and the ability for any government to deliver services to its people.
This difficult situation has caused Government to take corrective measures to address the fiscal imbalance which exists by putting in place a 3 year Structural Adjustment Programme. This programme has seen the lowering of the income tax threshold from $5000 to $3000. In addition, increases in property taxes and a number of user fees especially fees relating to motor vehicles have been placed on the backs of the workers and people of this country.
Public Sector workers are those who have been hit the hardest. No increases in wages and salaries during the 3 year structural adjustment period and very little opportunity for possible promotion due to government’s Attrition Policy where for every 100 persons demitting office 30 will be replaced.
Workers have been called upon to make greater sacrifices under the SAP in order to assist in closing the financing gap and ensure the stabilisation of our country.
The GTUC understands the plight of not only workers but of all of our people who are affected. The call to make sacrifices and the need to dig deeper into our pockets to share in these sacrifices are not easy. We also know that most workers heavily commit their salaries to financial institutions for loans and mortgages leaving them with little or nothing in their hands at the end of each month.
While we appreciate the difficult situation workers are in, GTUC also understands the serious situation Grenada faces which calls for drastic measures to put its fiscal house in order. It means therefore that GTUC, for the love of Grenada and its people, is of the view that we all have to come together and fix the problem.
However, GTUC wishes to state categorically that workers will not take all this bitter medicine from these austerity measures while professionals are getting away from evasion of taxes. We are calling on Government to put a proper system in place to pursue all tax evaders.
Tax compliance and tax collection must be a priority measure if this structural adjustment programme is to succeed. We want every professional, every contractor, every self employed to pay their fair share of taxes which can help to improve Grenada’s revenue. Every dollar counts at this time and the authorities must collect or be held accountable by the people of our country.
While GTUC is desirous of seeing Grenada out of this economic and debt strangulation in which it finds itself, it must not be construed as total support for the SAP. We feel strongly that fiscal rules must be put in place to regulate government’s excessive borrowing and spending on sectors that are non productive. Calling on workers to make sacrifices on a consistent basis can never be the answer to our country’s fiscal woes caused by politicians and their governments past and present.
GTUC has been calling on Government to look at the plight of pensioners in our country with respect to the payment of Income Tax due to the lowering of the tax threshold. We are calling on Prime Minister Mitchell not to go down in history as the Government who has placed taxes on the backs of pensioners. Pensioners have already made their contribution by working hard for our country and paying taxes on their income.
Taxing pensioners twice on the same money in their twilight years is unreasonable and unjustifiable. Person’s pensions are heavily committed to meeting medical bills and high medication costs. We say leave the pensioners alone. Leave them alone and return the taxes that have been deducted to them. We want deliverance for the pensioners.
TUC calls for the continued investment in our human resources. Our education levels and skills must be developed to enable our people to have additional opportunities for employment and to be competitive. New skills are required if workers are to survive in this period. So too, workers are to ensure that they further qualify themselves for new opportunities. Focus must also be placed on young people and the provision of additional opportunities both in the world of work and study.
GTUC strongly believes in small business development. This must be encouraged so that our people can find new areas for development and employment opportunities. We must feed ourselves and reduce our high food import bill. We all have to find some new ways for our own survival. We call for greater investments in agro-industries and manufacturing sectors.
We want to recommend that the fishing industry be seriously considered as a sector that can provide employment income for our young people. We are of the view that this sector has great potential and has not been fully exploited. We believe substantial income can be derived from the sector. We therefore call upon the government and the Fisheries Ministry to design and conduct training programmes that could assist our young people to obtain employment in that sector.
GTUC is saddened by the number of workers who continue to lose their jobs due to retrenchment. We are aware that the economy continues to be sluggish; however, we call for careful consideration to be given of a review of operations before employees are placed on the breadline.
The Social Partners, that is, Government, private sector, trade unions, civil society and council of churches and other faith based organisations have come together with the assistance of Dr. Andre Henry, Consultant, to work on a social compact for the sustainable development of Grenada.
The compact focuses on improving the economic framework for Grenada, facilitating labour management relations, promoting sustainable and meaningful livelihoods and promoting integrated social development. The compact is now at its final stage and will be soon discussed at forums to be organised by the partners and thereafter be signed.
GTUC wishes to encourage each and every one of you to participate in the consultations that are ongoing regarding Constitutional Reform. We must guard our Constitution dearly and ensure that whatever amendments that are proposed must be in our best interest as Grenadians. We have a responsibility to continue to monitor developments in that matter.
In closing, GTUC calls on everyone to stand up for social justice, equality, dignity and remain united in solidarity to protect our rights and our freedoms.
GTUC calls for improvement of the national productivity levels in every sector of our economy.
GTUC denounces all forms of discrimination, victimisation and exploitation.
Let us work together to build a better Grenada and a better world.
Happy May Day to all and May God continue to bless us abundantly.
Long live the Grenada Trades’ Union Council.
Long live the workers of our nation.
Long live the Indian community.
Long live the Cuban Workers in Grenada.
I thank you.