The fight for 25% gratuity on hold

The Public Sector Unions have called a ceasefire in the fight for 25% gratuity payment as a meeting convened Tuesday with government officials that seemingly point to a possible solution to the month-long industrial impasse.

Prime Minister Dr Keith Mitchell speaks to media on the issue of gratuity at his official residence at Mt. Wheldale, St. George

The meeting was held at the Corporate and Intellectual Property Office (CAIPO), Upper Lucas Street, St. George and involved Economic Development Minister Oliver Joseph who has emerged as government’s leading spokesman on the issue.

THE NEW TODAY understands that some progress is seemingly in sight based on the discussions on the way forward.

Among the agreements hammered out were the following:-

*Industrial action will be put on hold for the time being.

*The unions have established their 25% demarcation point in the gratuity with an option of a payment plan if the government has fiscal restrictions regarding it.

*The goverment team was tasked with the responsibility of putting forward suitable formulas to bring to Cabinet for consideration and to be communicated back to the unions on Tuesday.

* The two sides will discuss the proposals including counter-proposals on Tuesday.

* A meeting will be convened on Friday for both sides to come up with a framework on going forward.

GUT Presient Lydon Lewis and 1st Vice President of GUT, Kenny James as they walk into meeting with government officials at CAIPO Building

Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell held an engagement with members of the media at his residence at Mt. Wheldale, St. George on Tuesday in which the 25% being demanded by the unions was the isue dealt with.

He pointed an accusing finger at the union leaders, saying that they were interested only in discussing pension restoration and not pension reform and this could affect those workers who worked after 1985 and covered by the National Insurance Scheme (NIS).

“If you apply that formula, it means that you have no reform at all”, he said.

“… In the document we signed, it talked about restoration and reformation but if you apply (the) whole formula, you are not talking reform and that is the issue,” he added.
PM Mitchell reiterated that the fiscal space and its rules must be kept uppermost in the minds of everyone in handling the issue of pension and gratuity payments.

“We have been warned by all the institutions – regional and otherwise that that whole question of the fiscal rules which is responsible for giving us all this positive acclaim regionally and internationally will in fact be destroyed overnight if we agree to a formula that leads the government to unsustainable fiscal policy – that is the issue”, he said.

“But you and I, could only find out that if we sit and crunch numbers at different levels, not sit at a table and say I want 25 just like that or I want 50…that’s not how negotiations are done,” he remarked.

Minister Oliver Joseph was caught on his way to meeting

The Prime Minister held onto his argument that “it is morally wrong not to give the permanent staff some additional pension with government’s input”.

“…It’s also morally wrong to give the permanent staff and forget the un-established, who in many cases are working for far less and sometimes give as much service as those permanent ones and some of them are required and can’t even buy proper medications,” he said.

When asked specifically if government can make an offer to the unions more than the current 2% that was put on the negotiating table, Prime Minister Mitchell said: “Yes…but you would have to crunch the formula. See that’s the point. I cannot tell you yes, until the numbers are crunched. In other words, the discussion on pension and on advance payments must be fact-based – it’s not how Keith Mitchell think, how somebody in the union think or some union leader think, especially when we all agree that we cannot break the Fiscal Responsibility rule”.

“… If we say so, then we can’t turn around and play guess game…if it’s my money, I’ll just say give it but if I am going to put the country in trouble…do I want this to be my legacy? I don’t want to be leaving government having made a decision that put the country in the medium term and long term in serious problems – that is what I will be remembered for. I am not going down that route”, he added.

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