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Unions tell Mitchell government…. Retroactive payments in cash and not bonds

PWU workers in action as they protested outside the Ministerial Complex in the Gardens

Although the Keith Mitchell-led administration and two public sector unions are now closer to reaching agreement on the 4% increase in salaries, one sticking issue remains unresolved, an offer from State negotiators to meet the retroactive payments due for seven months in the form of government bonds.

According to President of the Public Workers Union (PWU), Brian Grimes, his bargaining body along with the Technical & Allied Workers Union (TAWU), headed by Senator Andre Lewis are not inclined to accept any bonds from the ruling New National Party (NNP) government of Prime Minister Mitchell.

“We can safely say that we have made some grounds in coming to a resolution,” he told THE NEW TODAY in an exclusive interview Tuesday.

Grimes said that there is a possible settlement deal on the table from the Government Negotiating Team (GNT) which is led by Foreign Affairs Minister, Oliver Joseph.

“What they have said is that they are committed to pay the 4% added to the salary basically at the end of August and regarding the retroactive payments – those will be basically January to July – they are proposing the use of Government Bonds which will mature in one year, which will take you to August 2022 at the rate of 3%. That is the offer they have,” he said.

“The Joint Negotiating Team, headed by Sen. Andre Lewis counter-proposed and stated that we will like that cash payment to be made by the end of July and we would also like our retroactive pay at the end of July in cash, not bonds,” he added.

According to Grimes, two ministers are currently involved in the process, Labour Minister Peter David as a Mediator in the dispute while Minister Joseph heads the government team of negotiators.

Labour Commissioner Cyrus Griffith had ruled a few weeks ago that since the warring factions could not settle the 4% issue, he decided to refer the impasse to Minister David to try and reach a negotiated settlement between the two parties.

Grimes disclosed that the unions met with Minister David on June 22 and he promised to get back to them shortly with some recommendations but he is yet to do so.

“He (David) said he will give a recommendation shortly. We are waiting – we trust that we will get a response this week,” he told THE NEW TODAY.

The newly elected PWU President said that based on the response from the senior government minister, the two unions will then go back to their respective membership for further instructions on the way forward.

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Grimes indicated that a deal is much closer at hand but it cannot be     concluded by anyone at this point in time that there is a firm agreement on the table between the Mitchell government and the unions to resolve the 4% issue.

“No final agreement because both parties are not on the same page in terms of the retroactive payment (for the months of January to July),” he said.

However, Grimes stressed that the unions do not see payment in either end of July or August as “a hard core” issue in the current negotiations.

“The issue that is of most substance is the payment of the retroact(ive) – they want to offer Government Bonds with an interest rate of 3% and mature in one year (but) we are saying cash for a number of reasons.

Grimes pointed out that the current Mitchell-led government cannot be trusted since it has shown over the years the propensity to change its mind unilaterally on contracts.

He said the unions also have to take into consideration issues of inflation and rising cost of living and believe that the payment of cash will help out public officers in this time of hardship due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The PWU boss noted that the NNP regime has given stimulus packages to workers in other sectors of the economy especially private businesses and the unions see the payment of cash as a sort of “super stimulus” for the local economy as the public officers will spend the additional funds received and not hold onto it.

“So, it’s all in the hands of the Honourable Peter David, the Minister of Labour and then we go from there,” he said.

Any agreement reached between government and PWU and TAWU on the 4% issue will also be binding on the Grenada Union of Teachers (GUT) which has been the most militant in the struggle for the payment of the salary increases which should have come into effect at the end of January.

In recent weeks, Prime Minister Mitchell has been dropping strong hints that the cash flow problem in the Treasury that was impacted heavily by Covid 19, has improved significantly to the point where the regime can start the roll-out of the funds due to public sector employees.

Prime Minister Mitchell is said to be anxious to put the 4% issue with public officers behind him as he is currently focused on getting the machinery of the ruling party ready for general elections due in less than two years.