It was a tough time for Minister of Labour, Peter David at the annual Labour Day Celebrations held at the La Sagesse Playing Field in St. David on May 1.
The Labour Minister came in for his roughest treatment ever as a senior member of the Keith Mitchell-led Cabinet of Ministers as workers took after him with their grudges against the administration on the thorny issues of pension and gratuity, the docking of public workers salary and contract work.
The workers heckled, jeered and booed Minister David as they were not prepared to listen to any word that came from him as he sought to reassure workers that the ruling New National Party (NNP) was supportive of the working class in the country.
Labour Day celebrations were held under the theme “Social and Economic Justice, a must! – Respect Workers Rights”.
The traditional march was attended by workers from the seven different unions making up the Grenada Trades Union Council (GTUC) – Bank and General Workers Union (BGWU), Seamen and Waterfront Workers Union (SWWU), Technical and Allied Workers Union (TAWU), Commercial and Industrial Workers Union (CIWU), Grenada Union of Teachers (GUT), Public Workers Union (PWU) and the Grenada Manual Maritime and Intellectual Workers Union (GMMIWU).
The workers demonstrated their anti-government through the many placards carried as they marched from Belle Vue, St. David to the La Sagesse Playing Field.
After being called out for his absence and non-intervention on workers issues by some members of the Labour Movement, Minister David received resounding boos from the angry workers and half way through his speech, the song Amazing Grace were heard being sung from the stands.
Minister David was not daunted and still delivered, noting that his history of indentifying with the working people is well documented.
He said amidst the shouts of booes: “I am now in a position over the last twelve months to find fair and equitable solutions to the number of industrial relations problem that confront working people and employer. As we face many challenges together… I know it might be easy to fall into a circle of mistrust but on this continuous march to empowering workers and to do right by all, we must be careful, not to let style nor personality get in the way of unbreakable commitment.
“From where I sit as Minister of Labour, we are more hopeful today than we were a year ago, that we will find fair legal solutions to these challenges that face workers in this country. We may sometimes bother about the details, we may sit across the table on different perspectives at times, but we have no doubt that this coming era shall be working people’s era,” he added.
President of the TUC, Senator Andre Lewis responded immediately to many of the statements made by the Labour Minister in his address.
Sen. Lewis charged that Minister David cannot be a member of the present government in light of his pronouncements that he was for the working class in Grenada, Carriacou & Petite Martinique.
“…The day of reckoning is coming brothers – a day of reckoning is coming. Don’t forget that on the eve of the election we signed the MOU (for 25% Pension and Gratuity) but they do not realise that it has an election cycle”, he said.
In a direct response to some of the achievements of the NNP regime over the years as outlined by Minister David, the TUC boss said: “We are not interested in things you have done two years ago, we want (to) know what are you doing now, what are your plans for us…you are the best government in recent history? Maybe, after you have placed mountains and mountains of taxes on us, so obviously the economy will grow. Once again the minister is asking us to trust in him, but that can’t happen, it is important for us not to get side tracked”.
President of the Commercial and Industrial Workers Union (CIWU), George Mason said the gains that are being boasted about by the Mitchell government remind him of the opening line from a book by Charles Dickens called a “A tale of two realities”, which read, “It was the best of times and it was the worst of times”.
Mason explained, “Presently, Grenada is a tale of two realities. The economy is buoyant, robust, growing, there is plenty money, we have found and are still exploring for oil and gas. Over 30,000 persons are receiving some form of assistance from our Safety Net Programmes. We have a low crime rate; unemployment is at an unprecedented low. This is one tale.
“…The other tale is that public workers are being treated as pigs for the slaughter house. When you have a pig, you feeding it to eat.
So, what you have happening is government doles out the pittance from the increases in taxes as salary increases and they in government have a policy of attrition, which is to every 10, you get three. So eat, be merry but your Saturday coming.”
Mason was not short on relaying his disappointment in Minister David for his lack of commitment towards workers and called on government to limit the Minister to just one government portfolio.
“The Ministry of Labour presently has two employees…the Labour Commissioner and one Acting Senior Labour Officer. The Senior Labour Officer has been acting, well I don’t know if he is…George Clooney.
The Minister has two essential portfolios – Labour and Foreign Affairs but when labour issues are hot, he is whisked away to foreign…he cannot talk, he cannot be found…that is the other tale. We call on government to relieve the Minister of Labour to concentrate on Labour or Foreign affairs…we call on government to employ more Labour officers,” he said.
President of the Bank and General Workers Union, Justin Campbell called out David to stop hiding and address the workers on the issue of pension and gratuity.
“The Teachers Union, Public Workers Union, and TAWU, they are going through a battle with government in order to get their pension and gratuity. They have been marginalised, Pension and Gratuity is for all of us…”, he said.
“…Where is Comrade Peter David and Brother Chester Humphrey? Up to today, we haven’t heard anything from the Minister. I don’t know if he is in the garden hiding but Brother Peter David come out, come out and address the nation, address the nation, about our pension and our gratuity. We don’t want Mr (Anthony) Boatswain (MP for St. Patrick West) to come and speak to us – you’re the Minister of Labour, come out and speak to the workers. Hon David, with due respect, as Minister of Labour, you have failed us…what a shame on the Keith Mitchell Administration,” he added.
President of the Public Workers Union (PWU), Rachel Roberts also addressed the minister on some of the negatives being experienced by Public Workers.
“Let us ask him to take a stand and do what is right to award workers social and economic justice because it is a right, not a privilege. We therefore call on government to stop the contract work, stop the indecent work, stop the victimisation, stop the arbitrary assignment and transfer of workers, stop disadvantaging workers. Workers should not be deprived of a security of tenure, deprived of increments, salary increases and freedom to join a union…
“…Mr. Minister of Labour, allow public workers to enjoy the economic gains of the fastest growing economy, just like you and your family and all…we are your people, please give us equal privileges.
Government stop designating Imanis as trainees, they are workers, stop the fake employment. Government, respect our rights to a constitutional pension, it is not an NNP favour.
President of the Grenada Union of Teachers (GUT) Lydon Lewis spoke directly to the Ministry of Education, whom he said wasted hundreds of thousands of dollars that could have been used for school repairs on the National Secondary School Games.
“The Ministry of Education has abandoned schools for many years and currently we are seeing only this week, the collapse of a large primary school (in) St. Andrew that has to be abandoned. Schools are in desperate need of repairs, desperate need of maintenance and supplies, schools need lightening facilities, proper toilets, yet the same Minister of Education spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on a sports that did not make sense to prove to teachers that they can do it. The money that was spent on the National School Games should have been spent on the repairs of schools throughout the length and breadth of Grenada,” he said.
At the end of the celebrations the PWU was once again announced as the champions of the march, while long standing union member and past President, Adrian Francis was recognised for his outstanding work in Labour relations over the years.