Trade unions in Grenada will be reflecting heavily on government’s decision to offer private contract work to various persons who were previously regarded as working within the Public Service during May Day activities on Sunday.
The Annual May Day activities will take place this year in the historic Parish of St. Patrick’s.
Workers associated with unions affiliated to the Grenada Trades Union Council (TUC) will assemble at the MacDonald College grounds at Mali, and march from 9:00 a.m. throughout the main streets of Sauteurs onto Fond Playing Field at Mt. Rodney for the traditional May Day rally.
TUC has consented to allowing the “Save Camerhogne Park Committee” to be among workers during the march.
In an exclusive interview with THE NEW TODAY newspaper, TUC President Kenny James indicated that Camerhogne is about people, and that it is about the working people of Grenada, and Labour Day is about one being able to express himself and bringing the issues to the people.
“We felt that it is necessary, it is something that we’ve done before and so we agreed that they would also join the parade,” he said.
James believes that the Keith Mitchell-led New National Party (NNP) administration is bent on outsourcing key jobs within the public service without having proper consultations with the unions.
The TUC Boss made particular reference to the recent announcement of offering contract work to nurses.
During last week’s post-Cabinet media briefing, Health Minister Nickolas Steele announced that government has taken the decision to offer contract work on a part-time basis of three days per week to 57 Registered Nurses and 51 Nursing Assistants.
The contractual arrangement for these nurses will be done through a private service provider whom Minister Steele did not identify.
The TUC Boss also spoke of the janitorial services, which will also be outsourced.
James said these are critical issues for the unions as many of the people who do these jobs are entitled to pension and benefits for the years that they have served.
“Now you’re taking them out of that arrangement and putting them in a position on six months contract. That’s unacceptable,” he told this newspaper.
James believes the NNP regime is attempting to relieve itself of the financial burden of having to address pensions and other benefits to workers by outsourcing jobs in the public service.
“At the end of the day the buck will have to stop with whoever the employer is rather than the government,” he remarked.
“The reality is that contract work, as working class Grenadians, is not a viable option,” he said.
The TUC Head pointed out that unlike professionals who enter into contractual arrangements with a package containing pension and gratuity, the contracts that are being offered to the working class is void of these things.
He called on the working class to stand up against contract work that is now being forced upon them by Mitchell’s administration.
“Government has a social responsibility to its people, the people elect the government to ensure that jobs are provided, and that persons are able to live a comfortable life,” he said.
James pointed out that a person who is on contract as a cleaner has little or no chance of raising money from a financial institution.
He said it is different from somebody who is hired by government to do a project and goes to the financial institution indicating that he has a contract with government for the next four years and puts before them the financial sum he will be receiving.
The theme for Labour Day is “Safeguarding Workers Interest In A Period Of Economic Hardship And Structural Adjustment.”
The TUC President stated that apart from the contract labour, other issues affecting workers such as unemployment, and increases in taxes will be highlighted on Labour Day.
Prime Minister Mitchell and his NNP administration have been claiming that unemployment has been dipping in the country since the 2013 general elections.
During a post-Cabinet media briefing, Health Minister Nickolas Steele and Youth and Sports Minister Emmalin Pierre referred to a 2013-15 labour force survey, which indicated that the working population in Grenada increased by three percent, and that the unemployment rate decreased.
Minister Steele said that in 2013 the employment rate was 67.8 percent, 2014 it moved to 70.7 percent, and 71.0 percent in 2015 and as of 2015, the unemployment rate stands at 29 percent.
In her contribution on the labour force survey, Minister Pierre said unemployment among young people declined by 11 percent.
However, the TUC President is treating these disclosures from government rather cautiously.
He said: “It depends on what you look at as employment. You see when we talk about employment, we have to find out whether the employment that we speak about is sustainable employment because anybody could be employed today and be fired tomorrow”.
The TUC Boss said labour has also recognised that the training programme is also being viewed by the government as employment.
Since coming into office, the NNP administration has included all persons within the Imani training programme as part of the labour force.
In response to statement made by Ministers Steele and Pierre, James noted that government, which is one of the main agents in the country for employment opportunities, is not currently hiring people.
The Washington-based International Monetary Fund (IMF) has been drawing to government’s attention the need to slash expenditure especially on salaries within the public service.
Although James described the current industrial climate on the island as being peaceful, he was quick to acknowledge, “there are growing issues.”
He pointed out that public sector unions were scheduled to put forward their wage proposals to government at the end of March.
He believes that as the negotiating process unfolds, there can possibly be a change in the industrial climate in Grenada.
The TUC Boss also believes that if government persists in outsourcing the jobs of nurses who are members of the Public Workers Union (PWU), and the cooks and cleaners in the schools, there can be a change in the industrial climate in a very short period of time.
“All things being equal presently, I can say it’s a good (industrial) climate, but it can change quickly if these matters are not addressed or managed in a proper way,” he said.
James strongly believes that time is against the Mitchell Administration as General Elections is drawing near and it needs to see an increase in economic activities before it calls another poll.
“People have been under pressure with the Structural Adjustment Programme. The reality is that the people of Grenada have made significant sacrifices to create the successes that the government boasts about,” he said.
As a build up to May Day activities, TUC will, today, (Friday April 29th) be engaged in a wreath-laying ceremony at the St. George’s Centre Cemetery in honour of those fallen Trade Union Leaders who have blazed the trail.