Public Policy Advisor Curlan Gilchrist has struck an optimistic tone in terms of the new government’s approach to dealing with the contentious issues of pension reform and regularisation of public officers that have plagued the public service for decades.
Pronouncements made recently in Parliament by Labour Minister Senator Claudette Joseph linking the solution to resolving the two (2) issues have led to widespread debate in the country, especially in light of the campaign promise of the newly installed Congress administration of Prime Minister Dickon Mitchell to regularise all unestablished workers and create one public service within the first 12 months of assuming office in June.
Three (3) months into the job, the government is seeking dialogue with the trade union movement on the issues going forward as it alluded to significant financial implications for the country’s economy if any attempt is made toward mass regularisation of unestablished public servants without addressing the issue of pension reform.
This was one of the topics explored during Sunday’s The Bubb Report with Dr. Kellon Bubb, where Labour Senator and President of the Trades Union Council (TUC) Andre Lewis reiterated the movement’s expectation for the commitment given that workers would be made permanent to be fulfilled and not traded one for the other.
Noting that regularisation of workers and pension are two (2) separate issues, Sen. Lewis reiterated his call for the Congress regime to fill the vacant positions that are established in the estimates, in a phased approach.
However, Gilchrist, who also appeared as a guest on Sunday’s programme pointed out that “with the new government taking power in June, there were no provisions in the estimates to regularise anybody so these things have to be now built in the new budget.”
“And, of course, you have to look at the broader picture in terms of fiscal viability. I don’t think it’s a concept of a trade-off but more a collaborative approach, and I dare say that as we look at Pension Reform we have to look at reform of the public service,” he said.
“Public sector reform is also important. We cannot do Pension Reform in isolation of public sector reform – that is something that has to go hand in hand,” he added.
Gilchrist went on to say: “I think the Minister (Joseph) was brutally honest in putting on the table the issue of pension, and public sector reform, and pension reform…so, I believe we can expect some interesting times going forward.”
The former senior public officer advised that the Labour movement “should wait to see what happens after the 2023 budget” which will be delivered in Parliament by Prime Minister and Finance Minister Dickon Mitchell in the coming weeks “in terms of any attempt to start dealing with the low hanging fruits.”
“These things require making budgetary provisions…so, I understand the Senator’s concern but I think he should also wait, and see to the extent to which, the budget will begin the process of meeting these commitments…I believe the policymakers are conscious of these things,” he told the programme host.
Noting that the government is the single largest employer in the country, with a public sector that dominates about 60% of the economy Gilchrist stated that the 4-month old congress government would want to see “one pension arrangement” in place in the public service.
“…I am just letting that out in the context of where the reform should be going in the future. With the budget consultation process that is taking place, I anticipate that due attention will be given to start addressing some of the issues that Sen. Andre talked about,” Gilchrist remarked.
The Labour Senator had contended that the model outlined in the 1958 Pension Act only applies to established officers, except for instances where trade unions have collective agreements.
“I do not see how any one of us could take that away from the workers,” Sen. Lewis said as he stressed that this is an issue that “we need certainty and surety on before any other discussions can take place”.
“We need certainty as to the implementation, and application of the court judgment for the workers so covered under the judgment going forward,” he added.
A few weeks before the June 23 general election, high court judge Justice Raulston Glasgow delivered a landmark judgement that public officers were entitled to a State pension in keeping with provisions of the Grenada Constitution.
The judge struck down a law that was passed by the 1979-83 left-leaning People’s Revolutionary Government (PRG) of slain Marxist Prime Minister Maurice Bishop that outlawed the state pension and created the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) as the sole agency to pay pension to workers in the country.