by JK Roberts (Sound Public Policies Advocate)
The Pension Proposal for Public Officers, purported to be submitted to the Public Workers Union (PWU) by the Secretary to the Cabinet of Grenada via letter dated 6 October 2017, must be declared ‘absurd and deceptive and unbecoming’.
The proposal is laced with complications, red-herrings, loopholes and conditionalities; integrating the ‘compensatory’ state pension-benefits with the ‘contributory’ National Insurance Scheme (NIS) pension-benefits. With this inference, the officials of PWU must not consider the proposal; and it should not be expected for them to meet with the government for discussions on such submissions.
It would not be surprising however, if the PWU and the other trade union bodies representing public officers, the Grenada Union of Teachers (GUT) and the Technical and Allied Workers Union (TAWU), accept the offer by the government, to resolve the long-outstanding issue of the State pension. The Grenada Trades Union Council (GTUC) already seems to be a defeated foe, especially being engrossed in the Social Partner/Project Grenada team, headed by Prime Minister Keith Mitchell. Particularly, the government seems to have already relegated public workers to a vulnerable position and perceived them as being gullible and greedy.
Moreover, the government seems to be gaining with its ‘divide and rule’ tactics to dismantle the public service institution and the trade union movement. Certain sections of public officers are given special treatments, including financial rewards and status privileges; special political employments are entrenched, including contracted professionals along with trainee-IMANIS; special employment policies are applied, including attrition and non-regularisation of workers; and special assignments of essential public services are affected to external organisations, including the aspiration for Executive Agencies. Fear of being victimised, and/or of being on the breadline, is instilled in the workers, and militancy and patriotism are stifled.
The PWU in particular needs to review its philosophy and approach and to reactivate its arsenal and determination in its thrust for having the restoration of the State pension. Despite some of the noises and threats made by the PWU, GUT and TAWU over the years on the issue, there has not been any significant impact. The time has long passed for these unions to realise that they have ‘blundered and wasted’ on many of the pertinent issues, and this is now backfiring on them. The1983 Pensions (Disqualification) Act, PDA, was not addressed promptly; the hastily introduced 2015 Fiscal Responsibility Act (FRA) was not taken seriously; and the 2017 ‘partial settlement’ of PWU with the government Negotiating Team (GNT) on the troubling one-off payment in relation to the 2013 to 2016 ‘shared sacrifice period,’ industrial agreement, is proving to be a fiasco for public officers. Are the unions being given ‘bad advice’ or, are they not at the advantage of all of the diverse experts in the Public Service?
The government has a disgraceful record regarding the Public Service and public officers. Its harsh conduct and fruitless malfeasance have been costing the State of Grenada millions of dollars. Unnecessary constitutional court cases of all aspects and dimensions have been entered into, including wrongful dismissals of officers and blatant refusal to pay pension-benefits, such as most recently relate to Gemma Bain-Thomas (Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court in the Court of Appeal Grenada, Claim No GDAHCVAP 2015/0013 Judgement delivered 22 September 2017) and Hermilyn Armstrong-Cox (in the Supreme Court of Grenada and the West Indies Associated States High Court of Justice, Claim No GDAHCV 2010/0423 – Judgement delivered 15 October 2012). It is then regrettable that the government is asserting that a ‘bleak’ financial viability and sustainability of the State pension is the impediment to a commitment to honouring the constitutional entitlements to its officers.
The announcement in the 2017 Throne Speech by the Governor-General on 20 October 2017, that a pension secretariat has been established and a database of the records of all former and current public workers who are eligible for pension has been developed, as a sense of purpose to resolve the matter once and for all, on their disqualification from state pension, is nothing more than part of the on-going series of hoax by the government. There is no need for any new initiative on the issue; this would be just increasing the financial burden on the state and countering ‘towards finding a fiscally sustainable and just pension solution.’ Over the years, beginning from 1995, various committees and consultancies have been established by the Mitchell’s administration, with virtually the same objective and mandate; but to date, unfortunately no account and achievement on their work can be had. Review the previously internet-circulated article ‘No Prime Minister Mitchell, Not Again !’ for appreciating the setting.
The government has no moral authority lecturing on adherence to legal provisions and court judgements, as well as on financial prudence; as it gloats in political bullying, dictatorial abuses and propagandised rhetoric. How then could the government tend to blast the PWU and the TAWU of seeking to have the violation of the mandatory limits on public expenditure, as stipulated in the 2015 FRA? As it has being ‘ever’ practising and upholding with the 1983 PDA, the government is adamant on giving precedence and respect to the primary legislation of the 2015 FRA, over the supreme constitutional provision for paying ‘entitled and earned’ pension-benefits to public officers. Study on the internet, press release on 16 October 2017, ‘Statement from the government’s Negotiating Team’ on the current state of affairs with respect to negotiations with the PWU and the TAWU and their call for strike action.
What is the real focus and forecast for the pension proposal, as presented? Why has the PWU been singularised for this proposal, from the ‘collective bargaining’ public sector workers unions on the issue? Does the proposal reflect the terms of reference and life for the pension secretariat, or does it reflect an already first outcome of the functioning of the secretariat? Is the proposal the recommendation of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) which the Prime Minister had hailed earlier in the year, for having pledged to give technical assistance on ‘his defined’ difficulty with the pensions? Also recall the internet-circulated articles, ‘Grenada’s Pension Reform is under the IMF’ and ‘Undefined Pension Reform touted in Grenada.’
The de-facto main opposition political party, National Democratic Congress (NDC), is yet to declare its hand on the issue of the state pension. Is the NDC on the same wavelength with the ruling New National Party (NNP), in collusion with external influences, on the issue? Before getting into power, it is imperative that the NDC be able to affirm whether or not it endorses the pension proposal, as well as whether or not it will, at least, repeal the 1983 PDA, as one of its first acts in Parliament. The trade unions for public officers must be critical and wary of the posture and utterance of the politicians; and despite which political party forms the government, the unions ought to be relentless in the pursuit of natural justice for its members.
The government’s pension proposal rekindles many controversial questions, rather than ‘finding an amiable and negotiated pension solution.’ Most critical would the formula for calculating the pension-benefits under this new arrangement also apply to parliamentarians? Disparities in the receipt of state pension must be brought in such discussions, and this would also include the need to improve the circumstances of the pension payable to retired public officers; review the article ‘An Open Appeal for Amendment to the Pensions Act 1990.’ Moreover; in case of an acceptance, will the proposal take effect retroactive to 5 April 1983 or will it take effect as from the date on which it has been assented to by the Governor-General?