By Carrema Lewis
It was a major show of force Tuesday as public sector employees including teachers took to the streets of the capital to send a strong message to the Keith Mitchell-led administration on the current impasse on pension and gratuity payments due to them.
The Public Workers Union (PWU), Grenada Union of Teachers and Technical & Allied Workers Union (TAWU) decided to intensify their strike action by calling the workers onto the street for the first time in the three-week old dispute.
The workers were in militant mood as they set out on the march from outside the National Stadium at Queen’s Park, through the city and into Tanteen Playing Field for a mass rally.
“Cyan sidung, sidung, sidung, sidung, for two percent”, “Tell PM for we, we banning we belly, we shutting down the country, if he doh pay us we gratuity” and “No threat, cyan hold workers down”.
These were the frequent chants echoed by hundreds of workers along the route as they expressed frustration with government’s offer of 2% as opposed to 25% guaranteed to them under the Constitution.
The march was led by President of PWU, Rachael Roberts, GUT President, Lydon Lewis and President General of TAWU, Andre Lewis and generated solidarity support from the Commercial and Industrial Workers Union (CIWU) and Bank and General Workers Union (BGWU).
In addressing workers on the Roy St. John Playing Field at Tanteen, the President General of TAWU, warned that the strike has not been escalated into a full blown one due to love for country by the public sector workers.
Lewis who is known to have a close friendship with Labour Minister Peter David told workers that the industrial action has been kept at a minimum but that the struggle will continue until government gives to public officers what is duly due to them.
He issued an ominous threat that many stand to lose if things go awry in the country.
“The struggle continues but it is important for us to bear the following in mind…this is not just a fight for public officers. This is a fight for the working people of Grenada because public officers have children that work on the airport and they have children that work on the port and they have children that work in the different private sectors, so we can assure comrades that at the right time solidarity shall be expanded.
“All that we ask of you is to rely on your confidence in your leadership. We by ourselves cannot do it, we will give you the ideas but we need your solidarity and support. Once you stand with us, once you give us that confidence, once we know that when we say 25 and nothing less, that you would stand with us…the struggle continues and therefore as you leave here today, hold the knowledge and the conviction that justice will come, justice shall come.
PWU’s Rachael Roberts insisted that public officers are determined to get from government what they deserve.
She told the rally: “We have served a great nation and after 26 and 2/3rd years our government wants to disrespect us. Should we stand for it? No 2%. We say to our Prime Minister, you are going home every four years with 20% and … you want to allow your employees to go home with 2%. Well, we say no way…we going home with 25%, nothing less.
“We stand together and we say we must be respected, our country seems to be a leadership of disrespect – it started with the disrespect of nurses and doctors and it’s continuing with the disrespect of all public officers.
Roberts also belted out: “We have made great sacrifices, if public officers do not do the work, if public officers do not teach, if public officers do not attend to the patients, what would happen to this great country? We must get what we deserve and we deserve 25% for the sacrifices that we have made”.
President of GUT, Lydon Lewis who has emerged as the firebrand among the leadership of the unions told his members that they cannot return to the classroom unless “equal rights and justice” is received.
Lewis blasted the ruling New National Party (NNP) regime of Prime Minister Mitchell of demonstrating lack of care for workers in the country.
“This is a government that show they do not care about workers, they take the bigger share and they give us the crumbs…it’s not equal rights and justice. They believe that we would forget but we will never forget – four to five years go quickly and we must not at no time be taken for granted.
“We are not unreasonable in our act – in fact, we have made serious compromise when we signed the MOU, we negotiated away some of the benefits that we needed or we should have and so this is a struggle that is a just one. Let those who labour reap the rewards…workers, teachers, hold strain, hold onto your conviction – that this is a just fight, this is what we all are entitled to.
“… It is about economic justice. It is about us retiring into a comfortable future. I think I’ll stand the brunt of the attack but I am not scared by threats, I am not frustrated by propaganda and you too should not be. Be not afraid of the verbal attacks.
“We have to stand strong and we have to stand united. Pensions and gratuity is a right…it’s what you have earned legally and morally.
What we are fighting for should have been a given but if we are to receive what we deserve from the politicians, we have to be prepared to struggle.
“Teachers going forward, the struggle continue, we cannot return to the classroom unless we get equal rights and justice. Teachers, workers, we remain steadfast…they think we go come by their office and beg, we have to band we belly and we say to them 25, 25, 25…and nothing less.
Interim Political Leader of the National Democratic Congress (NDC), Joseph Andall, who was seen around the protest march expressed solidarity with the workers.
In speaking to reporters, he said: “I think that the workers are justified in taking the position they have taken. We also believe that whenever there is any conflict the best way to go is the route of negotiation and if one side is holding a gun to the head of the other or sword across your neck, then you cannot call that negotiations, that is intimidation and so I believe that the unions (are) justified in standing up for what they believe.
This is a clear reference to the decision taken by government to file an injunction order in court against PWU to prevent workers in the Essential Services from taking part in the strike action.
The Congress Interim Leader urged the administration to go back to the negotiating table with the union leaders in an effort to bring an end to the current impasse.
Andall said: “We encourage the authorities to sit down and have genuine negotiations with all the trade unions, to withdraw all threats – threats of injunction, threats of withholding salaries because you need a proper climate in order for this to come to an amicable satisfactory solution.
“…It is my understanding that this (pension) is something that is written into the Constitution and if it is part of the Constitution then any government has an obligation to honour it. The question of whether the present administration can afford to do it, that would be something that they would have to work out together with the unions.
“…We must always bear in mind that the government is boasting about massive surpluses and robust economic growth over the past five, six years and so on and so we need to have some consistency in messaging from the Ministry of Finance – they cannot be crying trouble on one hand and thumping their chest on the other hand, talking about how good things are…it’s one or the other.
The union leaders had boycotted a meeting with the Minister of Labour, Peter David on Monday afternoon because of an injunction filed in court by Legal Consultant to Government, Guyanese lawyer, Darshan Ramdhani to prevent essential services workers from taking industrial action.
The injunction was pulled back and the unions met later that same evening with Minister David.
Union officials said that the meeting ended with the senior government minister giving an undertaking to send them a letter Tuesday morning on the way forward to resolve the impasse.
Up to the time of the march on Tuesday, the letter was not received and the Unions took the decision to order workers to remain at home on Wednesday.