President of the Grenada Union of Teachers (GUT), Jude Bartholomew has launched a scathing attack on the ruling New National Party (NNP) government of Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell accusing it of seeking confrontation with workers in the country.
In his maiden speech at the annual Labour Day celebration on the island last Saturday, Bartholomew warned that the voices of teachers will not be stifled because of the action taken by the authorities two weeks ago to send the police into his home for questioning over a series of street protest marches against government for failing to honour its commitment to pay the 4% increase in salaries to public sector workers.
The GUT boss delivered a brutal and passionate address to a small gathering due to Covid-19 restrictions at the national stadium at Queen’s Park in which he sent out a strong warning to the regime that the battle is not over.
Bartholomew who was introduced to speak as “the one who the police put their hands on” cited the blatant disrespect and disregard for workers’ rights by governments both locally and internationally and the attacks on the working class by multi-national companies that are being facilitated under the guise of foreign investment.
He accused the regime in St George of trying to stifle and mussel the activities of trade unions on the island, especially GUT.
“Brothers and sisters, it is evident in Grenada right now especially under this NNP administration the onslaught by government, Ministry of Education, attempting to curtail, test and trample on the rights of teachers especially temporary teachers and acting principals to muscle trade union activities,” he said.
“…We will never stand for the violation of these rights,” warned Bartholomew who received the loudest cheers from workers.
The GUT boss called on workers to be educated, become knowledgeable and be well-informed of all laws including those guaranteed under the Grenada Constitution, Collective Bargaining process, Labour Code and International Labour Organisation (ILO) convention for fear that attempts will be made by forces to take away their hard fought rights over the years.
Bartholomew stressed the need for workers to know and understand their rights including the fact that they can be called out at any time by a legitimate trade union acting on their behalf.
“If we do not pay urgent attention to these issues very soon all our rights – constitutionally and collectively through trade union negotiations, will be taken away from us like a thief in the night,” he said.
“…We must not take for granted that government or employers are friends of the labour movement or the working class,” he added.
The Ministry of Education, headed by Emmalin Pierre has put out a bulletin warning teachers that they have no guarantee to use the right of Trade Union Leave on the books to engage in anti-government activities like the 4% street protests taking place in the country.
The Ministry of Education has detailed some officers to call individual schools on a daily basis to find out which teachers did not show up for work and the reason given for their non-attendance in the classroom.
Last week, teachers staged a one-day sick-out that crippled many schools with some students having to return home very early in the day.
Bartholomew made a pitch for unity in the trade union movement, warning that individual trade unions will not survive on their own in the current atmosphere and that they must join their individual forces collectively to face the challenges that lie ahead.
He said trade unions must come together, unite, work together, develop their human resources, skills, talents, as well as train and educate members to know their rights in order to survive against the forces working against them.
The GUT boss also called on the law courts to deal with a matter of urgency the constitutional motion filed by public sector unions about the refusal of the State to pay them pension and gratuity.
The 1979-83 left-leaning People’s Revolutionary Government (PRG) of late Prime Minister Maurice Bishop suspended the Grenada Constitution when it seized power in a coup d’etat against the elected Eric Gairy government on March 13, 1979.
The constitution was restored after the collapse of the Grenada Revolution but successive governments have not restored the pension provisions as provided for in the constitution.
Some government officials have argued that the creation of the state-controlled National Insurance Scheme (NIS) by the PRG was intended to replace the Pension and Gratuity act.
Bartholomew also used Labour Day to attack the growing tendency of the Mitchell-led government to offer employees contract work and temporary assignments instead of giving them job security with permanent appointments on the establishment.
He called for “Social and economic justice” for workers and urged Labour Minister Peter David who was once known as “The People’s Man” to do what the Labour Commissioner, Cyrus Griffith, has failed to do and give a ruling to the effect that government should start paying the 4% increase in salaries to public sector employees.
Griffith has declared the GUT/government issue as an impasse and referred it to the Minister of Labour for Mediation.
This year’s May Day celebrations were held under the theme, “Solidarity and Education to protect workers’ rights and benefits in the times of Covid”.