Several workers at the state-owned Gravel, Concrete & Emulsion Production Corporation could be in for a bleak Christmas.
According to well-placed sources, the workers were told on Monday afternoon in a meeting held at Mon Rush near the Darbeau Hills and addressed by Public Utilities and Works Minister, Gregory Bowen that some of them will be sent home as part of a retrenchment programme that cannot be avoided.
An insider told THE NEW TODAY newspaper that the minister was flanked by newly appointed acting manager, Willie Hercules and Chester Palmer, a member of the Board of Directors.
He said the workers were told that Gravel & Concrete was in dire financial straits and was losing thousands of dollars in its operations.
The cash-strapped Keith Mitchell-led New National Party (NNP) government has been forced into a Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) to deal with a fiscal crisis engulfing the public finance.
Under the programme that has the backing of the Washington-based International Monetary Fund (IMF), the government is forced to cut expenditure including subsidies to state-owned bodies.
The 19-month old administration has defaulted on payments to its major international creditors and is seeking to engage them in debt restructuring including a massive hair-cut on outstanding loans.
The source said that the Gravel & Concrete workers were told during the meeting that sales were down on blocks manufactured by the corporation, as well as on other material such as sand.
He stated that the workers were not allowed to ask any questions of Minister Bowen and those sitting with him at the head table.
“The minister and them just told the workers about the retrenchment, then said hanks for the time, good afternoon and then they just got up and left. That was all that took place. They just informed the workers about the retrenchment that was coming – nothing else was said”, he remarked.
Government insiders have told this newspaper that Gravel & Concrete has been a loss-making enterprise for more than a 20 years.
Under previous NNP regimes, the state-owned corporation was often used to supply employment for party supporters in need of employment.
A former General Manager confided in this newspaper that he has reviewed the files of several workers who were initially hired on short-term contracts but were allowed to remain on the payroll of Gravel & Concrete for as long as 20 years.
THE NEW TODAY contacted the President-General of the Technical & Allied Workers Union (TAWU), Chester Humphrey on claims allegedly made during the meeting that the Management of Gravel & Concrete was waiting on a list from the workers’ bargaining agent in order to start the retrenchment process.
Humphrey scoffed at the notion of TAWU having to put together a list of names for consideration for any impending retrenchment at the loss-making state corporation.
He said the terms and conditions of the Collective Agreement between TAWU and Gravel & Concrete is clear on the methodology to be employed in the case of retrenchment.
The former Labour Senator pointed out that the onus is on the corporation to submit a list of names of persons being considered for sending home and to give the union the reasons for the decision to engage in the retrenchment.
This process, he said is mandatory and the Management of Gravel & Concrete should be cognizant of this fact if they are attempting to embark on a programme to send home workers.
Humphrey admitted that about two months ago he received correspondence from the corporation that its financial situation had deteriorated to the point that retrenchment was on the drawing board.
He said that since then the union has not heard anything further from the corporation and the ball is definitely in the hands of the employer and not TAWU to make the first move on retrenchment.
The NEW TODAY called Gravel & Concrete to speak to Manager Hercules about the situation but was told by his Secretary that he was in a meeting with “Consultants” and could not be disturbed at the moment.
Hercules did not return the call.
Earlier in the month, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance, Timothy Antoine told reporters at a press conference that retrenchment in the already bloated public service was not on the agenda at this
point in time.
However, his predecessor in the office, Dr. Brian Francis, now a Senior Lecturer in Economics at the Cave Hill Campus in Barbados of the University of the West Indies (UWI) is predicting some form of
retrenchment in Grenada as the government will be forced to cut expenditure to deal with its severe fiscal problems.
Dr. Francis has already accurately predicted retrenchment in Barbados under the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) government of Prime Minister Frundel Stuart.