Pension Debacle in Grenada

Nazim Burke on the march

Burke Thinks he Knows Why The PRG Removed Public Workers’ Pension in 1983

Political leader of the National Democratic Congress, Mr. V. Nazim Burke, is convinced that the decision of the People’s Revolutionary Government (PRG) to cancel public workers’ pension and replace it with the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) in 1983 was an attempt to bring a pension experience to all Grenadian workers.

Burke, speaking in an interview with the media in the town of Gouyave on May 1st, was questioned by the Barnacle’s Editor-in-Chief Ian George and asked: “What do you understand the thinking of the PRG to have been in 1983 when they removed the pension?’’

Burke responded: “I believe that the understanding was that they would level the playing field and try to ensure that all workers have a pension, not just the public workers; but all workers have a pension and perhaps, it served its purpose in the time.’’

More than thirty-four years have passed since the PRG repealed the Public Workers’ Pension Law and Burke believes that the time has since come for pension reform within the public sector.

Burke, a lawyer by profession, noted very clearly that Grenadian lawmakers must recognize that a law, which was passed in 1983, may not be suitable in today’s Grenada. “When you look at the present circumstances in the country today, things need revision; they need updating, they would need improvement, taking into account changed circumstances in the country,” Burke said.

A legal-minded Burke highlighted the composition of our laws, as one area of our society that needs revamping. He said, “Much like today, even though the constitution served its purpose in 1974, as we look at how it has worked today, you can come to the conclusion that changes can take place that would improve the operation of the democracy.”

The Grenada Government, the Public Workers’ Union (PWU), the Technical and Allied Workers’ Union (TAWU), and the Grenada Union of Teachers (GUT) are locked in a tight struggle that may amount to a melee in the coming months, if the Government does not do and say the things that will bring comfort to the average Public Worker.

Already, the local courts have ruled in favour of some retired Public Workers who are demanding their pension. But, the New National Party Government of Dr. The Right Honourable Keith Mitchell has refused to honour the court’s ruling because of fear of setting a precedent or because it does not have the estimated one billion dollars that is required to settle the impasse.

One way or the other, pundits are saying that this is heading for a show-down. Andre Lewis, President of the local Trades’ Union Council (TUC), and also President of the powerful TAWU, in his maiden May Day address, warned the Government of the consequences it will face should it continue to deny retired Public Servants their just pensions….

Public Workers dragged an imitation coffin through the streets of Gouyave on May Day and carried placards that “screamed” loudly their disgust with their employers, while warning of grave consequences to come should government refuse to honour their request to have Pension Restoration and Pension reform for State Sector employees.

Honourable Oliver Joseph, Minister of Labour, while addressing the nation’s workers at the Cuthbert Peters Park on May Day on the Pension Restoration and Pension Reform issues, felt the brunt of the workers’ frustration with his Government.

Workers, in a deliberate and defiant act of disregard and disrespect, jeered, heckled and booed at him even when he said, “The Leader of the Government, Prime Minister Keith Mitchell, has said that notwithstanding the monumental nature of the task, his Government intends to tackle it head on. He has revealed his deep personal empathy and that of his Government for workers, who, for over 31 years have been retiring without the constitutionally provided state pension. The Government, of which I am an integral part, WILL SOLVE THE PROBLEM AND RESTORE PENSIONS OF STATE EMPLOYEES IN A MANNER THAT’S SUSTAINABLE AND JUST.”

Joseph made this overture to unionized workers while admitting that there is a gulf between his Government and the TUC as a movement, especially the PWU and the GUT unions.

He said, “I know that there is an atmosphere of mistrust and suspicion of politicians, particularly when promises are made. However, on the issue of Pension Restoration our Government has demonstrated in practice that its word is its bond.”

An April 27 report from the Government Information Service (GIS), titled “IMF to assist with Pension Reform in Grenada’’, tells the nation that, The Keith Mitchell Administration has sought and got a promise from the The Washington-based International Monetary Fund (IMF) to assist the Grenada Government with pension reform. The report says that the pledge from the IMF comes as the Keith Mitchell administration places a high priority on pension reform, which the Grenadian leader has vowed to resolve before winding up his political career.

Written By: Ian George

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