President of the Grenada Union of Teachers (GUT), Jude Bartholomew has said that the island has seemingly slipped into a military state with the massive presence of law enforcement officers on the streets of the capital city today as the nation’s teachers staged a protest march to press ahead with their demands for payment of their agreed 4% increase in salaries.
Bartholomew was speaking to THE NEW TODAY as a crowd estimated at 500 strong, mainly comprised of teachers, took part in the march from the Old Trafford playing field at Tanteen to the national sporting stadium at Queen’s Park on the other side of the capital.
“What we have observed today which is so shocking is that we see police officers even from the highest ranks out in full force as if Grenada is in a military state,” he said.
“This is so surprising in a democratic and free State (as if) we are not free to express ourselves which we have the right to do… to march and to walk in accordance with the Grenada Constitution,” he added.
The GUT boss also said: “What you are seeing here is police from every direction and it is so amazing that they can come out today but when the public call them when they are in distress, they don’t come out with that speed as you see them there today – from every direction”.
“…That will not daunt us, that cannot stop us because we will never be afraid. No matter what the situation we might come in, we will go right ahead with our march until we get our 4%,” he told THE NEW TODAY.
From early morning, uniformed members of the Royal Grenada Police Force (RGPF) including members of the para-military Special Services Unit (SSU) were seen at just about every corner or intersection in the city to prepare for the march by the teachers.
One year ago, Prime Minister Mitchell faced a barrage of criticisms including charges that he was bent on introducing “martial law” in Grenada with a set of draconian measures aimed at curtailing the constitutional rights of citizens in the fight against Covid-19.
The men and women in uniform were placed at strategic positions to block off all routes leading into the Ministerial Complex at the Botanical Gardens where the Office of Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell is located.
Bartholomew also lashed out at Labour Commissioner, Cyrus Griffith who he accused of being a party to the efforts of the administration to slow down the teachers in their march for their 4% salary increase that should have taken effect at the end of January.
He said the GUT has just received a letter from Griffith informing the union that he has declared the impasse a deadlock and will send it for mediation at the hands of the Minister of Labour, Peter David.
He charged that the union was looking to the Labour Commissioner to hand down a ruling calling on government to meet the demands of the teachers for their salary increase in May or June.
“That did not happen. We see it as a delay tactic,” he told THE NEW TODAY of Griffith’s ruling.
The practice in Grenada is for all parties engaged in a dispute to resort to “a cooling-off period” in terms of industrial action once the matter has been referred for arbitration.
The Labour Commissioner has reached the mandatory retirement age of 60 but is currently working on a contract issued by government for the better part of three years now.
According to Bartholomew, the government and its Negotiating Team (GNT), headed by Foreign Affairs Minister Oliver Joseph are completely in control of the process which is just another arm of the State.
“So all what they are doing is slowing down the process and pushing it further, and that is what we are seeing and we are not happy with it at all,” he said.
The Mitchell-led ruling New National Party (NNP) government has told GUT and other public sector unions that it plans to pay the 4% no later than December 30, 2021.
The administration is claiming that the revenue intake at the Treasury has suffered a significant drop due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic which hit the island just over a year ago.
Prime Minister Mitchell told a group of specially selected journalists in an interview with them on Thursday that although the revenues have been showing signs of improvement in recent weeks, it is not at the stage where government can pay the salary increases.
Bartholomew expressed satisfaction with the large turn-out of teachers to the protest march, taking place one day before the traditional Labour Day celebrations in the country involving all trade unions under the umbrella of the Grenada Trade Union Council (GTUC).
“Teachers came out in full force,” he said, adding that support also came for them from other quarters among the working people in the country who were seen walking alongside the protestors amidst chants in support of the 4% payment.
He said this is a march for “social and economic justice.”
In the face of warning from the High Command of the Police Force to crackdown on protestors who violated Covid-19 health protocols, Bartholomew stated that the teachers are adhering to the regulations.
“As you can see all the teachers are wearing face masks – you can see the social distancing …. and you can also see the militancy of the Grenada Union of Teachers,” said the GUT boss.