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GNT willing to negotiate with unions but only in mediation

Cabinet Secretary Beryl Isaac - the former lead negotiator on wage increases for public servants

Head of the Government Negotiating Team (GNT), Caricom Affairs Minister Oliver Joseph is holding firm to the declared “deadlock” in salary negotiations with the joint bargaining agents for some public workers, the Public Workers Union (PWU) and the Technical & Allied Workers Union (TAWU) for the 3-year cycle of 2020-22. The unions are insisting on a close to 25% increase in pay over the 3-year period.

According to GNT, if this request is granted it would see government’s expenditure on salaries increasing by more than $90 million over the next three-year contract cycle.

During the last contract cycle, workers received increases every year during 2017 to 2019, which according to the government amounted to 10% compounded increase over the period. Minister Joseph, who declared the negotiations between both sides to be “deadlock” following a meeting on October 8 said, the unions’ current demand amounts to 150% of the previous settlement, which he described as being “unsustainable and unprecedented,” and suggested that mediation would be the next option.

“They got 10% the last cycle. What has changed so much for them to ask for 150% more? What is the condition?”, the minister asked of the unions in an interview with THE NEW TODAY newspaper.

The Unions have since reached out to the GNT proposing that they are prepared to continue the negotiations in a fair manner. However, Min. Joseph said the government is willing to negotiate but will only do so with a mediator, noting that the unions having failed three (3) times to reach a new salary agreement which has led to the deadlock in negotiations.

Minister Oliver Joseph – the current Chairperson of Government Negotiating Team

The minister was asked to comment on the view held by persons in some quarters on the island that the dispute on salary negotiations should be deliberated before an industrial court instead of before the Labour Commissioner, whose portfolio falls directly under the Ministry of Labour, led by Minister Peter David. Minister Joseph stated that Grenada unlike other countries does not have an industrial court.

“That is how it is (and) not only in Grenada. Remember the Labour Commissioner’s role is not only to mediate when the government is involved (but entails) all the other sectors and it’s an impartial position,” he said. “So, the Labour Commissioner is impartial. We do not have an industrial court like some countries…that’s what we have,” he added.

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Acknowledging the union’s downward shift in demand from a total of $90.5 million to $89 million, Minister Joseph told reporters as last week Tuesday’s Post Cabinet briefing “the government is prepared to accept any reasonable demand,” but is of the view that the current request is “unrealistic.”

“You know we wish we had EC$90 million to pay the workers; yes, we would have loved that but we have to be realistic and come to the table taking all the factors into consideration…the government also have to take into consideration all other sectors in society as it negotiates (like) the unemployed who have no pay day,” he remarked. Ahead of pre-conciliatory talks the unions said they were prepared to accept 6.5% increases for 2020, 7.5% for 2021 and 8% for 2022.

However, former Chairperson of the GNT Beryl Isaac has described the Unions proposal for such high increases as not being fact-based suggesting that it was supported by “emotional” sentiments. Commenting on the new developments Isaac, who was on hand to provide a background into the wage negotiations at last week’s media brief said: “Coming out of the meeting on October 12th and our desire to have fact-based negotiations, we (the GNT) found that the arguments that were being advanced by the Unions was basically emotional arguments.” One of the unions’ arguments for salary increases is that there are some public officers receiving less than $1, 200.00 per month.

However, Isaac pointed to statistics from the Ministry of Finance which reflects that “the average salary for 2016 was $2,158.00; in 2017 was $2, 281.60 and $2, 301.20 in 2018 and $2, 354.00 in 2019 and that is the average salary of public officers.”

The government officials maintain that the wage negotiations are time sensitive and must conclude in time to be catered for in the impending 2020 budget statement, which will be presented to the Houses of Parliament on November 20 by Prime Minister and Finance Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell.

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