|Letter: The battle of the wage bill in Grenada|
|Published on February 15, 2014||
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The Keith Mitchell-led NNP administration is currently engaged in a battle with the major trade union movement over the issue of the wage bill and the signing of the letter of intent. The signing of this letter is a major component of the IMF sponsored structural adjustment program (SAP).
Minister of economic development. Hon Oliver Joseph indicated in a recent cabinet briefing that the delay in the signing of the letter of intent is because no agreement has been met with the public sector unions. He went on the say that if an agreement is not met then government would sign the letter of intent by the end of February. In 2013 Dr Mitchell indicated that the letter of intent will be signed by the end of November 2013. Two weeks ago, minister Bowen indicated that the unions were 90% in agreement with the elements of the program, a claim denied by the president of the Grenada Union of Teachers. With the recent revelation by hon Joseph it would appear that Mr Lewis of the GUT was right, the unions are not in agreement with the proposals since they have no idea what these proposals are.
The government continues to shift the goal posts with every passing week. The administration policies are laced with inconsistencies, contradictions all aimed at misleading the general public. The end product of this misinformation is a gross lack of trust and confidence in the NNP administration and a breakdown in its relationship with the stakeholders.
Minister Joseph and Boatswain seem to be sending a vain threat to the trade union movement that if they refuse to accept the three-year wage freeze then government will have no choice but to retrench publics workers. This can't be good for the negotiations. Government seems to be pointing a retrenchment gun to the heads of the union executive and members.
The NNP administration is operating in 'bad faith ' with the unions in a similar fashion to the way they have been dealing with the creditors. The issue of the wage bill is a very sensitive and serious one. With 70 cents of every dollar earned by government spent on wages , pensions and gratuities there is a need to control and manage the wage bill more effectively.
Since assuming office on February 20, the NNP administration has failed to seriously address the issue of the escalating wage bill. The administration has instead increased the wage bill further but in real and relative terms.
Firstly the administration engaged in the dismissal of hundreds of qualified workers and replaced them with a bunch of 'lazy and unqualified' party hacks. This has increased the inefficiency in the public service.
Secondly, the NNP hired scores of high paying advisers in a 'jobs for the boys' scheme'. It is alleged that even members of the rebel faction are now on the government payroll.
Thirdly, scores of retirees have been employed back into the public service. These people are now collecting a monthly salary and pension in addition to all the fringe benefits and other incentives that go along with their job, all at the expense of the state. In addition to this government has hired six new permanent secretaries. In some ministries there are two PS working feverishly against each other, sometimes not even speaking to each other.
Fourthly, some senior public officers including the commissioner of police have been sent on long leave, while other individuals have been hired to filled their position. The NNP is operating a 'duplex’ administration, yet still the minister of finance and the minister of economic development is complaining about the wage bill and the delay in the signing of the letter of intent. They have to lay the blame at the feet for their 'erratic fiscal ' management.
Finally, the issue of the Imani program. Youth unemployment is over 50 % and so there is the need for government to provide training and employment opportunities for these young persons. The program is, however, fundamentally flawed and is too highly political. The majority of persons in the program are children of the supporters of the NNP. These young persons are not motivated to produce in a serious way since they feel that their MPs owe them a stipend for their vote. Persons are receiving wages for doing absolutely nothing. The program seems to have hit rock bottom. The trainers are just wandering aimlessly with no real hope on the horizon. Another drag on the wage bill.
The minister of finance needs to take a more quantitative, qualitative and scientific approach to the issue of the wage bill. This is NOT the time for 'political adventurism'. This is extreme economic times for thousands of workers and their families.
All public workers can't be dumped into one basket and asked to take a three-year wage freeze.
Government needs to look at the various sectors of the public sector such as the teachers, policemen, public servants junior and senior, parliamentarians/politicians and the percentage of the wage attributed to them. This should then be tied to the productivity level of that sector to determine whether they are giving value for money. It would be very interesting to know how much percentage of the wage bill parliamentarians contribute, given their high salaries and other incentives.
It is unfair and insensitive of government to ask workers to take a wage freeze across the board for three years when upon assuming office they gave themselves an 11% pay hike. Apart from that, workers now have to dish out hundreds of dollars in income tax, property tax, license fees and levies in addition to 15% VAT. They also have to contend with increases in their electricity bills, which may increase even further in light of government removing some concessions from Grenlec.
Public sectors workers in Grenada are among the lowest paid in the OECS. Grenada is one of the most expensive islands to live in, with a skyrocketing cost of living. The pressure on the workers is already unbearable and so they have to fight in their best interest. They are the ones doing the jobs and therefore must be compensated fairly. The workers of the country shouldn't be daunted by the threats, coercion and intimidation by the ministers who are fighting for their political and economic survival. It is disingenuous for politicians to give the people false hope in order to acquire political office.
Finally, the minister of finance needs to have the 'balls' to address the nation on the true state of the nation’s economy and financial situation. Making loose and fast statements to create fear and panic in society is unnecessary and counterproductive.
The nation needs to hear why the wage bill is so high and how much is contributed to this bill by the parliamentarians, politicians, Imanis and vote 340 and their numbers in terms of personnel. Provide the statistics to the general public on the number of unionised workers and their percentage of the bill. Don't just say the wage bill is high without the necessary statistics, and attempting to pin the issue on the hard working public workers. As a doctor of statistics this should be a relative easy exercise.
If the wage bill is so critical to the structural adjustment program and is delaying the signing of the letter of intent, then address this issues with the urgency it deserves. Be proactive and deal with the issue in a scientific way. There is very little trust in this relationship and so, as minister of finance, you have to work to build trust and confidence is you are capable of doing so. In the meantime I urge the workers to stand up for their rights. Look at the situation in Barbados and learn from that experience. For some workers, your boss is a "sell out" . You may lose a few battles but will eventually win the war.
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While Grenada's Unions have undoubtedly made progress on the road they have traveled, it's ultimately the same road.They still marched and rally in our streets, and at our government institutions, for their union rights, quality healthcare, fair wages, good schools, peace and equality.
The NNP government have a responsibility to those it governs. The government have brought our country to the brink of economic collapse. Those advisors and financiers who created the financial crisis is causing thousands of Grenadians to lose their jobs, their public services, their homes, and their retirement securities. And those responsible for the crises are also responsible for stalling the recovery under the guise of taking back our country. The Mitchell NNP regime have taken us backwards. Their recipe for recovery is to force working and poor people to pay for the corporate crimes.
Mitchell's proposals are anti-labor, anti-public education and ant- social services. His proposals are not helping anything. In fact they essentially resulted in a massive redistribution of wealth to his cronies, while revising taxes on the middle income and working people.
The unions need to fight back against those austerity and cuts. They must shine a spotlight on the wealthiest one percent responsible for Grenada's economic inequality and social injustices.
It is risky to take this Mitchell at their words. The major Trade Unions needs to step up, organize themselves, and build the society they believe in. They got to be even more determined to fight. They need to take their position very seriously. The Union Leaders must not hesitate to step forward, and exhibits their outstanding commitment and responsibility to represent their workers.
What these Major Unions deserve would actually cost the government far less than what they are paying former workers, who are not employed, yet receiving a monthly salary, and what they are secretly paying people like Derek James, Ruth Rouse and others.