Speech delivered at Grenada’s annual May Day Celebration by Hon. Peter David, Minister for Labour
It is my greatest honour to salute you on this special day and for this special commemoration.
You know some people asked if I will show up here today. Truth be told, I would not miss this for the world. From since I was a young adult, and every year that I have been in Grenada — whether as a private citizen or a public official — I have attended each and every single May Day celebration!
For me, it is not just an opportunity to show solidarity with the movement; equally importantly, it’s also an opportunity to commune with a people that have been the greatest inspiration to some of my roles in adult life.
Today’s march and gathering here, under such special circumstances, should remind us of the importance of this annual pilgrimage where we affirm the values on which every worthy society is built. Indeed, the last year has been a difficult time for workers here — and the world over — amidst this raging pandemic that has upended so many lives; and undermined a lot of the gains workers had made through the years. But the last year also reminded all of us about the value of you, the workers.
It was the working class that sacrificed the most; it is the workers — especially in the various essential services and medical communities — that went beyond the call of duty. Their efforts helped to stabilize nations — from the richest to the poorest — and were pivotal in helping them remain on their feet, even while facing our biggest collective medical, social and economic threat in 100 years.
You — Brothers and Sisters, workers all — standing here today — resolute, determined, even triumphant — this is a victory in itself.
I know for many of you the state of labour relations with some of your employers is less than satisfactory. As Labour Minister, it is not my role to provide running public commentary on many of those matters, since as designed by the rules that guide all of us, my office might be called upon to intervene as an intermediary. It is a mandate that we take seriously — and it is an expectation that we shall carry out. For some of you, this might seem as a time of great contradiction; but we, as a people, must be confident enough to believe that in the end, absolute clarity shall emerge.
On a personal level, I guess that I am an optimist by nature; but in all honesty and in all genuineness, my outlook can best be defined by two different Bob Marley quotes. In the song Zimbabwe he stated: We can overcome our little troubles. And in “Work”, he once sang: We Jah People Can Make it Work; Come Together and Make it Work.
I understand there is a certain restlessness borne, not out of bad intentions, but an eagerness to get issues settled. In this marketplace of advocacy there will always be a natural tension; but in the end, I am confident — and to revert to Marley again — we shall come together and make it work.
In the Covid-19 pandemic period, the Ministry of Labour has been stretched to its limit handling scores of employment disputes having to do with termination compensation; lockdown and annual vacation leave; shortening of the work week and rotation of workers; collapse of many small businesses and their inability to pay termination allowance and the issues involving Government and Public Service Unions.
Nonetheless, for the period under review, 130 grievances were reported to the Ministry and of that number, 96 were attended to.
Among the many disputes resolved by the Ministry are RBTT; Grenada Broadcasting Network (GBN); Republic Bank (Grenada Limited; Jonas Brown & Hubbard (Grenada) Limited; Grenada Co-operative Nutmeg Association (GCNA); Grenlec; and National Lotteries Authority.
In the last year, a total of 40 workplace inspections was done; this included inspections carried out during the period of lockdown and to workplaces where the virus had infected workers.
To confront the new and constantly evolving world of labour relations, a new initiative is now before the Cabinet aimed at reorganising the Ministry to make it better able to play its role and more effectively carry out its functions. We will, in the future, be meeting with the various stakeholders to discuss these proposals. This is a dramatic evolving world situation, particularly with the uncertainty of what exactly a post-pandemic world would look like and its impact on work and the nature of work. However, the many challenges alongside the aspiring advances, must not be a threat to the labour movement but a unique opportunity.
Your trade union movement ought not fear the future, but embrace it. Now more than ever, leadership must be innovative and nimble; but even when the rules and circumstances change, the goal must always remain — that of worker empowerment. As Labour Minister I operate in a sphere where I would rather have a strong labour movement, than a weak one.
Today, we meet to mark yet another milestone of 135 years in the celebration of International Workers’ Day. We are meeting in very perilous times. We — Grenada and the rest of the world — for the past year, have had the misfortunate of battling a deadly pandemic. Globally, Covid-19 has taken the lives of more than 3 million people.
In the USA alone deaths have surpassed half a million; Brazil is approaching that number; and India where it is now rampaging, Covid-19 has infected 15 million people and killed more than 208,000.
Many of you have lost family members in the United States, Canada and England; sadly, succumbing to Covid-19. Loved ones who have been providing much-needed financial and material support to their families across Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique.
In our own region of the Caribbean, we have managed the health-related aspects of this pandemic fairly well; but our economies have been devastated. The travel and tourism sectors have literally collapsed; State revenues in some cases have diminished by more than 50% and, in at least one Caricom state, salaries of public sector workers have been cut.
The Covid-19 outbreak is wreaking havoc on just about every aspect of people’s lives, including work, business operations and personal finances. Here in Grenada, because of the economic fallout, hundreds of workers and self-employed people, such as farmers and fisherfolk, have lost their incomes. In fact, according to Ministry of Finance estimates, 2,000 workers lost their jobs. This forced the State into providing direct income support to some 6,000 people in 151 businesses. The support investment was to the tune of $22 million. Added to that, the NIS has paid out almost $6 million to over 5,000 unemployed workers, even though there is not an unemployment fund.
In the face of this crisis, there are critical questions about rights to paid sick leave, medical leave, unemployment benefits, workers’ compensation, or disability benefits.
We, at the Ministry of Labour, note the industrial tension over the 4% salary increase matter. Government is fully committed — and guarantees — that the payment will be made. The matter is now at the Ministry of Labour seeking resolution. In all faithfulness, we promise you that the Ministry of Labour will fulfill its obligations in working toward an amicable resolution of the matter.
This year’s Labour Day theme, “Solidarity and Education to protect Workers’ Rights and Benefits in the midst of Covid” is a very relevant one.
We need to vigorously educate our entire population on the necessity to get vaccinated; educate the working people against anti-science and conspiracy theories. The GTUC has a strategic, vital and indispensable role to play in this fight against Covid-19. There ought to be no reservations or timidity and all parties must cooperate. Unless we significantly reduce vaccine hesitancy and radically ramp up our current vaccination levels, our economic situation will disintegrate, more jobs will be lost, recovery will be precarious and even those who are fortunate to now have a job may become amongst the unemployed. We cannot allow this to happen! I noted some timely interventions on the matter last week at a recent symposium by your own leadership member Brother Bert Paterson, General Secretary of the GTUC.
Today, I salute the workers not only of Grenada — but around the region and the world.
I particularly salute the working people of our sister Caribbean Island of Cuba whose profound practice of Solidarity and internationalism is unparalleled. Despite their own challenges, they sent thousands of their medical workers throughout the world to battle the virus. Despite the criminal blockade of that heroic people, they were able to develop their own vaccine which they will share with the world. We reiterate our call for the immediate lifting of the blockade against the Republic of Cuba.
On behalf of the Government of Grenada on this Labour Day, I also express deepest gratitude to the workers and Government of the People’s Republic of China for their solidarity and extensive material support in our fight against the pandemic. To the people of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, I express profound gratitude to you for the assistance with tests, vaccinations and other support during this period. In spite of your own challenges, you have shown true solidarity.
At this time, too, I express solidarity on behalf of the Government and all the working people of the State of Grenada with our sister people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and its indomitable leader Comrade Ralph Gonsalves. We feel their pain and anguish in their circumstances of a pandemic and volcanic eruptions. Our hearts bleed with yours and our feelings are profound. I call on all workers to continue to extend solidarity by making contributions, in whatever way possible, to the Vincentian people.
Through the lockdowns and the uncertainty, so many people have spent time on their knees, but emerging from all of this, we have no doubt that together we shall move forward on our feet. On this journey, sometimes the roads get rough, and our feet get weary, but we push on. We may lose some on the way; but we push on. Contradictions might even emerge; but we push on.
Building bridges are not always easy; but we need it to get to the other side. So, we push on. When comrades fall, we pick them up; we hold their hands — and we push on. Our public morality does not afford us the luxury to abandon friends — so, we push on! We shall not be brought down by cynicism, nor poison the well with recriminations and disrespect. So, let’s push on!
For in the depth of midnight, we shall not complain about the darkness; but we shall look expectantly to the dawn that is to come. “We, Jah people, can make it work Come together and make it work!”
Long Live International Workers’ Day! Long Live Solidarity! Together, we will defeat Covid-19!