The possibility of a national strike looms as trade unions meet to discus their options in an impending battle with the 16-month old Keith Mitchell-led New National Party (NNP) administration on its approach to the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) to give the State a 50-60% “hair cut” in the millions owed to the financial institution by government.
A leading trade union official told THE NEW TODAY newspaper that the strike option is a last resort as the Grenada Trade Union Council (GTUC) is confident that it would defeat the government on the NIS proposal.
He said the TUC has embarked upon a strategy to get the Board of Directors of the Scheme to reject any proposal put on the table for a massive reduction in the amount of monies owed by government to NIS.
He stated that the trade union umbrella body has already started to engage the Board of Directors of the Grenada Employers Federation (GEF) to get its support to defeat the NIS proposal being put forward by the Mitchell government as part of its 3-year Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
He spoke of the local trade union movement seeking the support of the two representatives on the NIS Board to vote alongside the two union officials serving on the State body to reject the proposal.
The government has two representatives on the 7-member NIS Board in the persons of Chairman Ron Antoine and former NIS Managing Director, Ashton Frame who is a card bearing member of the ruling party.
The other member with a voting right on the NIS Board is the current General Manager, Alfred Logie whose vote can be key in determining any final vote on the “hair cut” issue.
According to the source, the initial contact made by TUC with GEF executive members appear to be positive with the employers seemingly inclined to give serious consideration to whatever proposal is put on the table for discussion by the trade unions.
He said that most of the GEF members are nearing the age of retirement and would not want to see NIS place in an awkward position with respective to meeting its financial obligations to them.
“I cannot see the Employers people wanting to vote in favour of giving the government this hair cut. It is like asking a man to vote to cut out his own hand”, he remarked.
The official stressed that the government is not getting any support on the NIS “hair cut” from any member of the TUC including the Seamen & Waterfront Workers Union (SWWU) whose executive members are known to often tow the line of the Mitchell administration.
He added that the TUC has not ruled out the possibility of asking its thousands of members throughout the country to target Antoine and Frame – the two government representatives on the NIS board – to force them to reject the
Another option that is being considered is court action to get a high court judge to rule on whether the NIS Board can take such a far-reaching decision that has implications for the financial viability of the fund.
“I don’t think it would reach that stage at all. There is no way the government is going to win this thing. They will have to back down before too long”, the source said.
Government insiders have told this newspaper that PM Mitchell is adamant that the 50-60% hair cut take place in order to send a message to the IMF and international creditors that the regime was serious about tackling the island’s critical fiscal situation.
Prime Minister Mitchell is said to have blasted THE NEW TODAY for breaking the news a few weeks ago about the NIS proposal.
During a meeting with the Social Partners, PM Mitchell accused the newspaper of not supporting anything done by his government and being totally opposed to him personally.
“He said this thing (NIS hair cut) was a top secret thing but someone went and talk to the newspaper. He also said that the NIS Board will not be involved in the debate at this point in time since he would ask Timothy (Antoine, PS in the Ministry of Finance) and Ron (Antoine, NIS Chairman) to meet first and work out the details of the hair cut”, the source quoted PM Mitchell as saying at the meeting.
According to the source, the Prime Minister was not in a compromising mood during the meeting and was insisting that the “hair cut” is imperative in the scheme of things in addressing the massive national debt of EC$2.4 billion.
The Mitchell-led government has not made any debt payments to the island’s international creditors since it took office following the February 2013 general elections.
Most of the debts were created by a previous Mitchell regime during an earlier stint in government between 1995 and 2008 when it embarked upon a massive borrowing and spending spree on a number of non-productive projects.