The year 2021 has started off with the New National Party (NNP) government of Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell and the island’s three public sector unions at loggerheads on the 4% issue.
Government has announced that it cannot afford to pay the 4% increase in salaries that was earlier agreed in negotiations between the unions and a Government Negotiating Team (GNT) headed by now Minister of Foreign Affairs and Caricom, Oliver Joseph.
It is well known that the revenue intake of all the countries in the Caribbean region has shrunk from the unexpected visitor to their shores over the past ten months due to the Covid-19.
However, the 4% increase in salaries for public sector employees was negotiated by the Grenada Union of Teachers (GUT) on one hand, and the Public Workers Union (PWU) and the Technical & Allied Workers Union (TAWU) who negotiated as one united team, long before the virus showed its ugly head.
THE NEW TODAY is fully aware of the deep suspicion and disdain with which public sector employees in the country are viewing their political bosses in the Ministerial Complex within the Botanical Gardens.
The distrust of late started with the government’s decision in late 2019 to dock the salaries of striking public sector employees on the Pension and Gratuity issue which is currently before the high court for a ruling.
And if Opposition Leader Tobias Clement, the Member of Parliament for the St George North-east constituency is to be believed, the Prime Minister enjoyed taking away the monies from the striking teachers and civil servants as a punishment for their action against his government.
Clement who was then a sitting MP on the Government Side indicated that he was at a special meeting called by Prime Minister Mitchell with party supporters and loyalists at the Grenada Trade Center to explain the situation to them and he laughed at those who lost some of their salaries for engaging in the strike.
It was also known at the time that some ministers in the government were sympathetic to the plight of the public sector employees but did not have the fortitude to stand up against their dictatorial leader and allowed him to have his own way as usual.
Over the years, the NNP has had a love/hate relationship with public officers who in the main are categorised as middle class elements and not “the poor and vulnerable” and the “rich and greedy” in the society where Dr. Mitchell and company get most of their electoral support to maintain their stranglehold on the country.
The Grenlec issue has also served to add fuel to the fire that has been burning between the government and the trade unions in recent weeks.
The murmuring from the unions is that if the regime can easily find $US60m of the $63 million in a matter of days to pay off the U.S Company WRB Enterprises to obtain its majority shareholding interest in Grenlec then it could equally find the monies to pay the public officers in keeping with their signed agreement.
The unions are also fully aware that while the government keeps talking of the need to keep the wage bill under control, it is hiring many of its supporters through the Imani programme and in political schemes such as Traffic and Health Wardens.
In addition, Prime Minister Mitchell is often seen as very insulting to public officers with some of his remarks whenever the issue of salary increases comes into the spotlight.
This is one Grenadian leader who feels he has a monopoly on deciding when it is the right time to use funds from the Treasury to pay public officers as opposed to some of the more questionable dealings of the administration over the years.
The Prime Minister tends to anger civil servants whenever he opens his mouth to shout out to them that now is not the time to talk about salary increase and to even make outstanding payments due to some public officers like ex-Cabinet Secretary Gemma Bain-Thomas who is still waiting on the court-awarded compensation of nearly one million dollars.
However, in the same breath Dr. Mitchell and his NNP government is often using the public purse to provide jobs for its supporters including that of his son, Olinga Mitchell who has no track record in the legal profession but is an Advisor in the Ministry of Finance.
THE NEW TODAY is fully aware that the current Prime Minister is engaging in hiring of workers on political considerations with elections always uppermost in his mind in terms of cashing in on their votes.
Grenada is very much at the crossroads with the NNP creating a parallel civil service with the use or abuse of what is called Vote 340 in each Line Ministry in the country.
The figures are not available but it will not be surprising if under the NNP regime there is as much or even more unestablished employees on the payroll as opposed to those established workers who are governed by the Public Service Commission (PSC) which is the body that is responsible for running the affairs of the public service under the Grenada Constitution.
The like of the institutions for enabling good governance in the country has already been snuffed out under the current leaders in government.
The problem with the public sector unions is that they are so divided and run the risk of being picked off one by one under this government on the 4% issue.
It is difficult to see PWU and TAWU holding out if GUT, which is on its own, enters in some kind of arrangement and settlement with the NNP regime on the matter.
As King Ajamu said in one of his songs, “Unity is strength” and “United cannot be defeated” but the current crop of union leaders do not seem to understand anything about this as they go along their separate march to try and get the 4% increase in salaries for their members.