Pension shock for the Labour movement

Public workers unions are anticipating that retired public servants would begin receiving pension payouts from government by this weekend.

Just over fifty applications have been approved and the cost to government is said to be in the region of seven million dollars, annually.

It is not clear if all structures have been established to accommodate the payments.

There has been speculation about whether Prime Minister Dr Keith Mitchell rushed to sign the agreement as a vote getting stunt mere weeks before the March 13 general election.

In February, government and the three unions involved reached agreement and signed a Memorandum of Understanding which outlined a two-phase commitment to restoring State pensions.

The unions involved were the Public Workers Union (PWU), Grenada Union of Teachers (GUT) and the Technical & Allied Workers Union (TAWU).

The negotiations were designed to fix a problem which had existed for more than thirty years, where public officers upon retirement received only a gratuity payment.

The deal covers public servants, including police and prison officers who have been appointed between April 1983, when State pension was abolished and December 2018.

But the Pension Restoration and Reform scheme appears to have hit another rocky patch as government seeks to change the rules “mid-game”.

The unions cried foul this week, accusing government of trying to renege on pre-election commitments.

Public officers can retire after a period of twenty-six and two thirds years or at sixty.

“We do not believe that the Ministry of Finance is empathetic in any way to the workers,” said GUT President, Lyndon Lewis.

He was speaking at a news conference called earlier this week after the unions met with the government’s negotiating team on the Friday before.

Lewis said the pension issue was now on a downward spiral and called on government to “honour what you agreed to pre-election”.

He told reporters, “We were really shocked on Friday to learn of the government’s position”.

TAWU’s Andre Lewis called the government’s proposal on the age for pensionable benefits as “shocking and disappointing”.

Lewis disclosed that their team was scheduled to meet again Tuesday with the government negotiating team to hear their next move.

The unions are also proposing that one percent increase be applied to pensionable benefits. The government is offering 0.1percent.

Andre Lewis said any concern about a lack of unity within the labour movement should not be taken seriously particularly on these two areas of concern.

“We are not interested in a fight but we will fight if it is necessary,” he warned government.

After the February agreement, Prime Minister Mitchell said both sides had “agreed on a fundamental formula for going forward”.

At the time he commented that workers had suffered as a result of the unresolved issue and that some had even died waiting.

Speaking at the press conference, the representative of PWU, Andre Augustine said, “all workers have been made aware of the nature and spirit of the agreement and any deviation from the employers side, would not be helpful”.

The pension issue became problematic for government after a high court judge rule as “null and void” and “unconstitutional” the law passed by the 1979-83 left-leaning People’s Revolutionary Government

(PRG) of slain Prime Minister Maurice Bishop to bring an end to state-paid pension to public officers.

The PRG made the move after instituting the National Insurance Scheme in 1983.

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