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PWU extremely concerned about regularisation, and equitable treatment of contract workers

President of the Public Workers Union, Brian Grimes - wants to see gender equity in female-dominated sectors

President of the Public Workers Union (PWU) Brian Grimes has cited issues of “gender inequity” in the approach of the ruling New National Party (NNP) government of Prime Minister Keith Mitchell to the outstanding controversial issues of contract work and regularisation of nurses in the country.

Grimes expressed this view in an exclusive interview with THE NEW TODAY last week Wednesday in response to statements made by Prime Minister Mitchell on these issues during his contribution to the EC$1.3 billion 2022 Budget that was presented two weeks ago in the Lower House of Parliament.

The Grenadian leader announced that the “Department of Public Administration (DPA) has been mandated, and is developing a comprehensive framework” to address the issue of regularisation, noting that “policy recommendations have already been drafted to establish eligibility criteria to manage that process.”

He confirmed that “43 nurses have been regularised to date” including “nursing assistants, registered nurses, staff nurses, and district nurses,” and spoke of there being “162 contract nurses” employed within the public service.

“The Ministry of Health will work with the Department of Public Administration (DPA) to ensure (an) objective, transparent, and ongoing process exists in this whole process of permanent establishment positions that are available,” the Prime Minister said.

He also told Parliament that “the plan will also address persons who have been acting in truly vacant positions because it is not fair, you can’t have a person in a vacant position for 10, 12, 15 years and don’t regularise them.”

“So, we have a problem in the system (and) therefore we have to accept responsibility …likewise, persons who are holding temporary appointments will also be remedied in so far as truly vacant positions that are available to do so,” he said.

PM Mitchell gave assurances that “the manpower plan for 2022 will (also) normalise the employment status of eligible contract doctors.”

However, he pointed out that the “numbers (permanent establishment positions) in the public service is fixed,“ which is a condition that has been agreed to access soft loans from international financial institutions.

“…We had to agree to that. The over EC$100 million in soft loans that we are getting, we would not have gotten a cent if we did not agree to basic decisions that will enhance the medium term and long term economic benefit of the country…In other words, we did it because we saw in it lies the benefit for the serious economic benefit of this country, by doing what is right, being responsible and managing our affairs…so people must understand,” he declared.

Prime Minister Mitchell also used the opportunity to explain the “three (3) types of contracts under which people are employed within the public service.

He said: “One (1), a Public Service Commission contract, through which contractual appointments are made to the establishment…the second one is a Government of Grenada contract, which is a contract of service where an employer/employee relationship exists,” the third being “a contract for service, where individuals are regarded as a service provider (and) and there is no relationship of employer/employee in the typical sense except for the performance of the service that you give relative to being paid.”

He went on to explain that “the matter raised (by the PWU) on contract work does not and cannot be applied to all these categories across the board,” noting that “service providers where no employer-employee relationship officially exist warrants no regularisation or salary increases.”

“The service provider negotiates a contract with the employer, so there is no question of when the public service get 4% that I must get it too… (because) you negotiated a contract…when an employer-employee relationship does exist like in the first two cases, we must be reminded that contracts/agreements between parties and any adjustments mid-stream must be done within a specific context and framework,” PM Mitchell told the Lower House.

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“So, we agree (that) in many of those cases there is justifiable cause for peoples’ concern…so, we have to deal with the unfairness of those contracts and the conditions as agreed to then as opposed to now because things have changed,” he added.

However, Grimes noted that it was the Mitchell-led NNP regime that introduced contract labour within the public service in 1995, and “has since created many different types of employment of their own volition, which has complicated matters.”

The PWU boss described the move to “exclude these workers who pay union dues with regards to 4% salary increases as one of “political and financial expediency to save the government some money at the expense of the financial comfort of these workers.”

“So, they know that these workers are entitled but chose not to give them based on a deliberate technical interpretation and that is how we feel at the Grenada Public Workers Union,” said Grimes, who condemned “the way the nurses are treated as opposed to the police force which is a male-dominated industry”.

“It seems as though there is a gender inequity in this country that they look down on female-dominated industries, and that is what is happening to the nurses. They have shown their importance to the country, to national development,” Grimes contended, noting that “a nurse is a constitutionally recognised position just like a police officer”.

“Do you hear of a police officer working under contract? No, you do not hear or a police officer under GRENCASE, (the Grenada Citizen Advice and Small Business Agency), no you do not hear,” stated the PWU boss who referenced a statement recently made by former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon “that governments have to invest in nurses across the globe.”

“…What we are seeing here in Grenada is that they are being treated as second-class citizens, given contract work and many of them are leaving but you are not seeing that happening with their counterparts in the Royal Grenada Police Force which is male-dominated. If you look at the top echelon of that particular profession you would see mainly men but with the nursing sector which is female-dominated and female-oriented and in the health sector in general hence the reason they are being treated like that.

“So, there is a lot of gender inequity here that needs to be looked into and they (government) have said that the workers are deserving of better treatment but the ball is in their court – let’s see what they do with that ball.”

“So, if that framework, and this word that was used, very broad (and) generic to improve the conditions of contract workers, if it doesn’t involve them getting periodical increases like established workers, then we are spinning top in mud.”

Grimes welcomed the gesture by the administration to give an additional month’s pay and half month pay to frontline workers this month, including medical professionals, and ancillary workers in the Ministry of Health and Police officers as a token of appreciation for their hard work and sacrifice during the ongoing fight against the deadly coronavirus.

However, he said the union is “not jumping over the moon with this because this is a one-off payment and called for the judicious distribution of the monies.

“What the GPWU is extremely concerned about is regularisation and equitable treatment for contract workers in the service,” he declared.

Grimes called on government to “regularise these workers or at the very least ensure that they get salary increases to commensurate the contributions that they make alongside established workers.”

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