by the Hon. Peter David, Minister for Labour
On behalf of our Prime Minister, Cabinet of Ministers, the Ministry of Labour and on my own behalf, I bring you warm and comradely greetings on this occasion of the 136th anniversary of the commemoration of International Workers Day.
While the struggle of the workers and working people continues, within my own lifetime, it is true to say that the working class and the organised labour movement have made progress on several fronts. Notwithstanding setbacks and regression and some temporary defeats, the arc of history bends towards progress! We, therefore, ought not to be discouraged but to face the present and future with courage and confidence in our pursuit of full emancipation.
We are gathering here today in very perilous times during a raging pandemic and a war in Europe which has threatened our economic survival in the region and internationally.
The economic implications of the war in Ukraine are very severe particularly for small island developing states like ours. The estimates on food inflation are projected to be well over 18% in the immediate short run; and between 20% to 30% increase in energy prices; again, it would be the working class who will feel the pain the most.
In Grenada and the region, we have managed the health aspect of this pandemic very well, and we are gradually emerging from this crisis. But it has left deep economic and social scars.
Here I pause to salute the heroism of medical and other frontline workers whose dedication to duty has been exemplary. We have been witness to the depths of humanism; the depth of valour; the depths of solidarity exhibited by the working class across the globe.
In a small token of our appreciation, our Cabinet of Ministers found no difficulty in approving a gratuitous payment to these workers. I register my personal thanks to all of them.
Comrades, this year’s theme “Promoting Workers’ Unity: Consolidating and Advancing Gains in these Challenging Times” is indeed a very relevant one. The Labour Movement knows that there are no gains without struggle; no advance without struggle; indeed, not a day without the struggle!
You are gathered here today to celebrate a proud history of struggle, and significant gains on behalf of workers. And I stand here today with you in both admiration and solidarity. You know I might be regarded as an eternal optimist, but I remain hopeful that there is a juncture where we will cross on that road on the destination where indeed workers will be at the forefront of building a more just society. In spite of the bumps along the way – we will get there.
You may well know that the latest attempts to solve the pension issue started in 2012.
Back then, when the then opposition New National Party met with leading members of the Trade Union Movement, uppermost of the 27 demands placed before it was the restoration of state pensions to Public Officers.
After this government’s return to office in 2013, it opted not to appeal the Hermilyn Armstrong case, and every worker so affected was paid in full accordance with that judgment.
Through your own advocacy, several good things eventually came out of that 2012 meeting, including the removal of personal income tax on severance pay and on pensions.
Comrade workers, it must be fair to say that this government has been closely associated with some of the major steps it took towards the entire pension issue in the last few years. You may also recall the special Pension Act; recall the Labour Code; recall the Party’s position during the Grenada Breweries struggle.
In spite of all the speculation it therefore should have been no surprise that this Government has been emphatic it would not appeal the Glasgow Judgment, notwithstanding the herculean fiscal challenge, it creates. We must now sit down and work together on a plan of implementation.
Comrades, please let’s rally together on this one.
The scale of finance involved is no walk in the park and requires cooperation and reasoned engagement by all stakeholders. As Minister for Labour, I look forward to facilitating dialogue and as always my door will be open. We shall solve this problem working together. Thank you for thanking me for solving the 4 % issue.
Your theme envisions unity and solidarity to advance; we must therefore be conscious that in this constitutional victory for public officers, there are thousands of marginalised other workers, the working poor to whom the state must also provide economic relief and security. Your solidarity will also be needed for this unorganised and voiceless section of the working class.
Sisters and Brothers, the slogan “industrial peace can only be built on industrial justice” is a truism. I know for many of you the state of labour relations with some of your employers is not satisfactory. As Labour Minister, it is NOT my role to provide any public commentary on many of these matters. My office is often called upon to play a mediating role in these labour disputes. It is a mandate that we take seriously, and it is an expectation that we shall carry.
In the pandemic period, the Ministry of Labour had been stretched to its limit handling scores of unemployment disputes having to do with termination compensation, lockdown and annual vacation leave, shortening of work week and rotation of workers, collapse of businesses and the inability to pay termination allowance and issues including Government and public service unions. This in addition to issues in the banking sector, the statutory bodies, and the public sector. We have done our best to ensure that justice is done.
In doing this I want to thank the Employers and the Unions for their cooperation. I want to especially that the Labour Commissioner my brother Cyrus Griffith for his tireless work, especially over the Covid-19 period. In the last year, a total of 45 workplace inspections were done including the period of lockdown and workplaces where the virus had infected workers.
To tackle the evolving world of work labour relations a new initiative is now before the Department of Public Administration and we look forward to be in a better position to tackle many more industrial relations issues.
We know that there are several legislative changes that must be made in order to achieve a more just industrial dispute resolution framework. In this regard, we will sit with all stakeholders including the trade union movement to achieve these goals.
Comrades as I conclude today, I salute the working class, not only in Grenada but across the world and around the region and the world. Several Governments came forward with assistance to us as we confronted this dreaded pandemic. I thank them all and their workers for making these sacrifices to assist us.
I particularly salute workers of Cuba whose profound practice of solidarity and sacrifice is unparalleled. Despite their own challenges, they sent thousands of their medical doctors throughout the world to battle the virus. Despite the cruel and inhumane blockade of that heroic people, they were able to develop their own vaccine which they shared with the world. We reiterate our call for the immediate lifting of the blockade against Cuba.
On behalf of the Government of Grenada on this labour day, I also express my 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 your assistance with personal protective equipment and other support during this period. Despite your own challenges you have shown true solidarity.
Let me leave with these general points that I made a few Labour Days ago before the pandemic – because I think they are more pertinent today than ever.
On this journey, the road may get rough, and our feet get weary, but WE PUSH ON.
Building bridges are not always easy, but we need it to get to that other side, so WE PUSH ON.
Our duty does not afford us the luxury to abandon friends, WE PUSH ON. We shall not be brought down by cynicism, nor poison the well with recriminations and disrespect, so LET’S PUSH ON.
In the depth of midnight, we shall not complain about the darkness, but we shall look expectantly to the dawn that is to come so WE PUSH ON! ON, UNTIL VICTORY!
My mother always quoted me the scripture about Joy Coming in the Morning. Our collective commitment going forward — as well articulated by the Prime Minister last week — is that we ALL must renew our commitment to build a just society.
The Labour Movement and workers must be key players in that commitment.
Long Live the Working People of Grenada Carriacou and Petite Martinique!
Long Live Workers Solidarity! I thank you!