With chants of “we want we pension before election” and “we want we pension, we need we pension,” a call was made by the island’s leading public sector union for the rebirth of pension by Public Officers.
The Public Workers Union (PWU) organised a march last Friday morning from its head office on the Port Highway to the nearby entrance to the Ministerial Complex in Tanteen that attracted scores of public officers and different trade unions marching with placards calling for pensions to be restored to public officers.
The march, held under the banner of the newly elected PWU President, Rachael Roberts started around 10.00 a.m and ended back at the PWU building with a solidarity gathering.
The President of the Grenada Technical & Allied Workers Union (GTAWU), Andre Lewis and the Grenada Union of Teachers (GUT), Lydon Lewis were present at the march as a show of solidarity to public officers.
The PWU had sent a letter to Minister of Labour, Oliver Joseph and it was read out by Roberts to the assembled workers.
The letter referred to the unfairness that is being experienced by Public Officers under the Pension Disqualification Act which came into effect on April 4th, 1983 under the left-leaning People’s Revolutionary Government (PRG) of late Prime Minister, Maurice Bishop.
This act disqualified persons who joined the service after 1983 from receiving a pension from government after the launch of the state-controlled National Insurance Scheme (NIS).
The letter said in part: “…Public Officers were obliged to accept the award of a reduced remuneration to be guaranteed a pension in their senior years on completion of diligently serving the government and people of Grenada. Hon Minister, this act will continue to be a serious grievance to all public sector employees and their unions and welfare associations who believe that this wrong committed against public officers must be corrected. It is witness on a daily basis that a number of public officers retire from the public service into conditions that present a state of poverty.
“…The harsh existing reality is that (not) being in receipt of a pension means that they are without the necessary financial resources that afford them the ability to meet their economic needs on a daily basis. Many of these senior public officers who should be enjoying a comfortable life in their senior moments are unable to pay their medical bills, mortgages, tuition fees and other necessary expenses. This reality presents an extremely undesirous and humiliating one to public officers retiring from the public service after honouring their country,” it added.
Roberts told workers that the fight will not stop until pension is received.
“Pension is number one issue and it will continue to be the number one issue for us as Unions until we receive it…others are receiving and we must be given the same honour. If you are going to honour yourself and dishonour your employees, you demonstrate that you are a very uncaring and uncompassionate and unjust employer and we call on our employer to be compassionate, to be just and to demonstrate equity. Just as they are receiving theirs, we should also receive…our constitution says that we should get a pension that is not less favourable”, she said.
Under Grenadian law, parliamentarians qualify for a state-paid pension after serving only two terms in Parliament.
Former President of the PWU, Adrian Francis who also stood in solidarity with the workers on the pension issue told the gathering that 34 years after the 1983 decision was taken by the PRG, this is enough time to put an end to the issue of no pension for public officers.
“Persons who we employ have to work four years to get a gratuity and after 8 years, they get a pension…we will hope that the powers-that-be considers today and more sooner than later give a specific date when they would start to pay the pension,” he said.
President of the Trade Union Council (TUC), Kenny James stated that all the achievements that are being boasted about by government are due to the work of public officers and as such they should receive their pensions.
“…It is not the government ministers – they are policy makers. The persons who are turning this wheel are the workers and as a result in fairness, in appreciation for the sacrifices and for the efforts that our public officers are making, we must…we are deserving. The constitution affords us a pension and we want that pension.
“You (government) went to the IMF and said to them you can’t pay and I’m putting a programme together. This is the new IMF – the public officers of Grenada, we are the new IMF. Sit down, put your plan together and come to us and let’s have discussions on the matter but the fact is, we must, we will have a pension.
“Comrades, we have not seen any form of shut down in Grenada in a little while but trust me on this one … inevitably, if the matter is not addressed, we can look forward to a shutdown of Grenada because this is the appointed time and we want it addressed now. We have an administration that boasts about delivery, let’s see serious delivery now, let’ see delivery that is going to impact the life of the workers, let’s see delivery that is going to impact the future of the workers. We’ve paid our dues, we paid the increase taxation, all we are asking now is that you deal with the pension situation and we will be happy.
The Keith Mitchell-led New National Party (NNP) administration was forced to approach the IMF for assistance in putting together a Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) to arrest a severe fiscal crisis and high debt payments.