President of the Grenada Union of Teachers (GUT), Lydon Lewis has described as a success the two days of “rest and reflection” by the nation’s teachers as a protest action over government’s offer of a mere 2% in gratuity payment upon retirement from the service.
In an exclusive interview with THE NEW TODAY, Lewis said that the checks made by GUT including “our own tours around and visit, we realised it was tremendously successful”.
“Most, if not all of the teachers stayed away from class and the few that went in soon returned to their homes. So the impact was achieved and we have had a major success”, he told this newspaper.
The GUT decided to take action following government’s decision to renege on a promise of 25% gratuity upon retirement for public officers, by now offering a mere 2% for years of service offered.
The bargaining body for teachers along with the representatives for public sector employees like the Technical & Allied Workers Union (TAWU) and Public Workers Union (PWU) and Prison officers and Police officers entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with government on the payments days before the holding of the March 13 general election.
The planned sick out for Monday and Wednesday was announced last Friday by Lewis and on Sunday, Minister of Education, Emmalin Pierre issued a public statement on the matter saying that all teachers are expected to report to school.
She said, “The Ministry is not aware of any provisions, which are contained in the Collective Agreement between the Government and the Grenada Union of Teachers nor in law for a directive of such a nature to be given to Government teachers. In fact, appropriate procedures are laid down in the Collective Agreement and in law if the Union wishes to undertake industrial action in case of an industrial relations dispute.
“…The Ministry therefore expects all teachers in the employment of Government to report to work as usual on the two days in question and appeals to all teachers to keep the interest of the Nation’s children foremost in their minds.”
In response, Lewis stated that Minister Pierre was ill-informed and clearly was not “provided the proper guidance and education” before penning the release.
“We have no issue with the collective agreement and she is correct.
What she is wrong about is that saying the union has no lawful right to take action, no one could tell the union when to take action or how to take action – the union takes action in the furtherance of its cause…”, he said.
“…What the minister is attempting to say to us is that she is not aware that we have started this discussion and negotiations over a year and a half ago. What the minister is saying is that she is not aware that in February before the elections in March that we signed an MOU and that Cabinet gave us a conclusion to make the MOU actually legal”, he added.
Lewis went on: “What the minister is saying that she is not aware that government has proposed 2% whereas she is entitled to 25% of her gratuity, they have proposed 2% for the rest of the public service.
What the minister is actually asking teachers to do is to ignore their gratuity, their pensionable benefits and her own, what she is entitled to, is already secured.
“So, she is asking teachers to return to class and not bother with the unions in a just cause so that when they retire, they can actually retire into a decent living rather than retire into a life of poverty”, he said.
According to Lewis, the union is giving the Government Negotiating Team (GNT) until Friday to reach out to Teachers to avoid further action on the part of GUT.
Lewis encouraged government to try and find a path to a solution so that the issue can be amicably resolved.
“The actions will escalate. Teachers are convinced that they need to stand resolute in their fight for their pensionable benefit,” he said.
“It shows that teachers are willing to rise to the occasion and answer the call because once they’re convinced that the issues that concern them is one that is just and reasonable. So, it doesn’t matter how long we take to rise up, the Grenada Union of Teacher has always been a resting giant until so provoked”, he added.
The last protest action taken by teachers was June 2017 when they took a day off from school as a result of comments made by the Minister of Education regarding the furniture issue at the Grenada Boys Secondary School (GBSS) as they felt it was disrespectful to the teaching profession.