Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell is seemingly not perturbed over the two-day strike action called by the Public Workers Union (PWU) and the Grenada Technical & Allied Workers Union (TAWU).
Speaking to reporters at a post-Cabinet press briefing on Tuesday, Dr. Mitchell said that the effects of the strike that some persons were hoping to see as a result of the strike action will not be forthcoming.
Prime Minister Mitchell stated that at his own Ministry of Finance the workers were on the job.
“My own reading of things is that people are beginning to understand what is taking place. I was at the Ministry of Finance a while ago – our revenue base is intact, people are working, the leadership is there doing their work. The few areas that had misunderstandings appeared to be clarified at this point in time”, he said.
“I don’t see the impact that some people may have wanted to see for whatever reasons – I don’t see it occurring. So, I am very hopeful that common sense will prevail and that we will see an end to this impasse that appears to be occurring at this particular time,” he added.
Prime Minister Mitchell, without calling names accused some persons in the country of trying to use the unions against the government.
He said: “…Those who are using the workers will find that the workers have become much smarter than they are and I am convinced that this thing will not have the desired results that some of them wish to have”.
“I do not expect that we will see any escalation in this exercise”, he remarked.
PWU and TAWU ordered workers on Monday to take limited strike action over a lingering dispute on a one-off payment of $1500 for public officers.
The unions have refused the government’s offer of $650.
The strike action officially started on Friday when the unions ordered the island’s estimated 5, 500 civil servants to work only from 8.00 a.m. to midday.
It was extended on Monday when the workers remained off the job for the entire day and also on Tuesday.
THE NEW TODAY understands that during the strike action, most public officers stayed off the job at the Ministerial Complex with the exception of a few of the top managers and Imanis.
The Ministry of Education was affected by the strike, as well as the Fish Markets in St. George’s and Grenville, the dispensary at the St. George’s Health Centre was closed and some medical stations around the island operated with skeleton staff.
There are reports that fish vendors in Grenville were forced to sell fish underneath a tree as the Fish Market was closed.
In addition, the fish vendors in the city were begging for the Fish Market to open in order to get ice for their fish.
President of PWU, Rachael Roberts told reporters last Friday that they will ensure that their members are treated with justice by government.
President-General of TAWU, Andre Lewis said that the unions have followed the dispute resolution procedure and “have now passed the stage of the Minister for Labour and so the stage is set for us to do whatever is necessary to ensure that we get what is fair.”
Mitchell’s ruling New National Party (NNP) government had agreed to give the workers some financial benefits for the sacrifices made at the end of the three-year Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP).
Agreement was reached on a first one-off payment of $1000.00 out of $3000.00 with “more” to follow after July 2017 if “the fiscal space” allowed for government to do it.
The unions reduced the final expected package of $2000.00 to $1500.00 but government offered only $250.00.
In the face of constant rejections from the public sector unions, the government offer was raised to $500, then $600 and to the latest proposal of $650.00.
PWU and TAWU summoned the workers to a mass meeting last Thursday where the government offer was resoundingly rejected.
According to Prime Minister Mitchell, the government has already gone beyond its means to reach an agreement with public workers.
He spoke of the need to satisfy other sectors of the country and not only civil servants.
“We have the young people still out there without jobs. What do I do – forget them as Prime Minister? There are people whose homes are still wetting when rain falls in this country.
Should I forget them? Don’t give them anything, don’t give them a piece of board but just give more and more and more… (to public officers)?
“My conscience will not allow me to do it, and I think anyone who has a conscience will not proceed to want that to happen.
In an apparent reference to persons getting State assistance in the form of poor relief, Prime Minister Mitchell spoke of the government’s obligation to “the marginalised in the society who need help”.
“This $200 we give people (monthly) is that really money – we need to double that or triple it but they are there. They are our grandparents, our aunts and uncles and so on who have given a lot to this country”, he said.
Dr. Mitchell also reminded reporters of millions that government will have to raise to settle the long-standing pension issue with civil servants dating back to the ill-fated 1979-83 Grenada Revolution.
He said: “We have now settled on a pathway for pensions that can cost the country hundreds of millions of dollars. The minute we settle this (pension issue), the next thing you hear is that we want more one–off; but, where is the money coming from?”
The local high court has declared “null and void” the PRG decision in 1983 to stop pension payments to public officers on the establishment of the state-run National Insurance Scheme (NIS).
Dr. Mitchell sounded annoyed that public sector unions are demanding more money from a government that has provided so much for them.
He said, “We must know that others have to eat bread too, not me alone…”.