The impasse between the Keith Mitchell-led New National Party (NNP) government and public sector workers has intensified with the Public Workers Union (PWU) Monday ordering its members to join the struggle being waged on the issue by the Grenada Union of Teachers (GUT).
The powerful Technical & Allied Workers Union (TAWU) has also ordered those workers it represents in the public service to take time off from the job on Tuesday and Wednesday as a show of support for its colleagues.
PWU President, Rachael Roberts told reporters at a press conference Monday at the union’s headquarters on Port Highway, St. George’s that a directive has been given to members to stay at home for the next two days.
Roberts said: “We will be using the first 48 hours to remain at home to calculate our gratuity to determine why we should sacrifice ourselves into poverty for 2%. Therefore, all public officers are asked to remain at home on Tuesday and Wednesday, November 13th and 14th until further instructions by the union. Members, this is a clarion call for us to stand united for our gratuity of 25%,” she said.
GUT started the industrial action last week to protest what it said was the decision taken by the Mitchell-led administration to renege on a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that the NNP swept the polls winning all fifteen seats to leave the main opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) without a seat in the island’s Parliament for the second consecutive national poll.
According to Roberts, the workers who are expected to remain at home are those directly involved in government service including ministries and departments.
She said the PWU was forced to take the action since the Government Negotiating Team (GNT), headed by Cabinet Secretary, Beryl Isaac failed to invite the unions back around the table for further discussion on the issue of pension and gratuity due to public officers.
“We want the general public to know that our employers have not invited us back to the table. The Government Pension Engagement Committee has not extended an invitation to come back to the table and therefore don’t be fooled when you hear that the unions are not coming back to the table.”, she told reporters.
“No invitation was issued to say that we are now ready to sensibly negotiate with unions. When we get the call that tells us that the Pension Engagement Committee is serious and is ready to negotiate in a sensible manner around this matter, we shall and will return to the table with 25% gratuity for our members,” she said.
THE NEW TODAY understands that the last time the two sides met to discuss the issue was October 3.
Public Relations Officer of PWU, Brian Grimes described as ‘inhumane’ and ‘immoral’ government’s 2% proposal to public officers in pension and gratuity while ministers enjoy all the full benefits and gratuity.
“It is very ironic that some of the messengers of government, they are enjoying two pensions, meaning now the Cabinet Secretary (Beryl Isaac) who is the leader of the Government Negotiating Team, she’s enjoying the 1958 pension whereby she can get both an NIS pension and a government pension which adds up in excess of 100% of her salary and she also, based on her work, has a handsome contract with the government and she is spreading the gospel of government which will lead workers to hell rather than heaven…”, he said.
“If you scratch the surface she gets in excess of 100% with the 1958 act and the combination and workers only get 70%…”, he added.
Grimes went on: “…So, this is misinformation and half truths that is being spread by the messengers of government. Then we have on the government side, parliamentarians, every four years, they can get a gratuity. If we estimate conservatively, let’s say their salary is $5000 and that is estimating conservatively – a gratuity of $50,000 at the end of four years and if they serve again, a next $50,000. So, at the end of eight years $100,000 and then you are telling people on certain salary scale, they can only get after 26 and 2/3 years, 3-4 thousand dollars – that is laughable, that is inhumane, that is immoral and it is also in our view illegal”.
First Vice President of PWU, Andrew Augustine urged the public to disregard statements coming from the Government Team that the 25% proposal as being advanced by the unions was not agreed upon in the MOU.
“We want to make this clear that there was no discussion about changing that very important element of the MOU, in fact, it was clearly understood that everything was certainly going to remain the same except for the combination…of NIS and government’s contribution to give us 70% pension.
“Gratuity was never something that was considered to (be) off or not part of the equation in that discussion. So, therefore, we want to emphasise that any misinformation in regards to that or any alluding to the fact that 25% was not a valuable consideration is inconsistent with discussions that we’ve had at the table, inconsistent with the provision of all the trade unions who sat at the table discussing the gratuity and pension.”
Like Augustine, President Roberts said that there was never any doubt about the 25% being part of the pension and gratuity package.
Roberts said that “the MOU that was signed on the 18th of February and the 6th of March in the case of the Public Workers Union is an MOU that all parties around the table understood that the gratuity represented 25%”.
“There was never a question as to how much that gratuity represented.
As a matter of fact, a proposal was put forward on the table by the Government Pension Engagement Committee asking the unions and staff associations to take the gratuity in two tranches of 12 and a half percent in one and 12 and a half percent in the other.
“We never got the opportunity to seriously discuss that proposal and a proposal in the sneak of the night was placed on the table for 2% without any discussion from the unions on whether or not we could consider the 50% in two tranches as was offered.”
This newspaper understands that the strike action taken by PWU was successful as only contract workers, Permanent Secretaries, Management staff and newly hired workers were seen at the Ministerial Complex at Tanteen, St. George.
Meanwhile, TAWU has formally announced that it was getting involved in what is now being seen as “solidarity strikes”by public sector unions on the pension issue.
The union issued the following release:
“The Grenada Technical and Allied Workers’ Union, yesterday (Monday), informed the leader of the Government Negotiating Team, Cabinet Secretary – Mrs. Beryl Isaac, that the Public Sector workers represented by GTAWU will be engaging in intermittent days of reflection as a result of the unreasonable proposed reduction in the gratuity of public workers from 25% to 2%.
The Union and Uniformed Services Associations have been awaiting a response to our proposals since Mid-October and are yet to be given an opportunity to discuss same with the GNT.
We shall only resume normal industrial relations when the Government of Grenada becomes serious about its commitments made pre 2018 Elections as we seek to ensure a decent level of living for our retired workers, past and present.
The first two (2) days of reflection shall be Tuesday, November 13 & Wednesday, November 14, 2018. Please be guided accordingly”.