Mini red-letter day at Parliament Building
The protestors, numbering a few hundred drawn from some ministries, carried placards denouncing the Alliance For Change (AFC) and its leader, Mr. Khemraj Ramjattan, for piloting a motion in parliament which would have had the effect of reducing the staff strength of contract workers within ministries. These workers, mainly contract workers, shepherded by their respective ministers, were visibly agitated that they would lose their jobs should Ramjattan’s motion be carried.
The workers, by and large, were very critical of Ramjattan and the AFC. The ministers of government were very liberal to provide impromptu comments to the press which also painted Ramjattan and his party adversely. The demonstration and vociferous comments from the protestors, characterized the scene in Brickdam outside the Parliament Building on Tuesday, April 17, as the 2012 budget debates continued.
Mr. Ramjattan and the AFC were labeled as anti-worker by the demonstrators. This allegation is far from the truth. The AFC and Ramjattan, in particular, have a proud track record of defending workers.
When Diamond sugar workers were denied payment of severance pay by GuySuCo, it was Ramjattan and the AFC who stood in their corner. The legal representation provided by Ramjattan was instrumental in causing GuySuCo to make severance payment to eligible sugar workers.
The several work stoppages in the sugar belt at Rose Hall, Blairmont and Enmore Estates saw Ramjattan and other AFC officials lending support and providing leadership to sugar workers. The advice and assistance contributed in no small measure in resolution of industrial disputes on these sugar estates.
Residents, taxi drivers, students and teachers a few months ago, in East Bank Berbice, protested against the deplorable condition of the public road. It was the AFC officials and Ramjattan who provided moral and political support for their just cause. The AFC representation will materialize in the construction of a proper bitumen surface road. In the interim, repairs to the road will be undertaken.
Again, the AFC officials and Ramjattan intervened on behalf of residents in Cane Grove who are affected by the dust nuisance emanating from a rice milling complex located in the village, which is causing havoc to the community. The residents have exhausted, without success, all channels to resolve this problem prior to the AFC’s intervention. They contacted the EPA, NDC, RDC and other institutions but still the problem persisted. With the intervention of the AFC, at long last a solution is in the making.
Apart from the examples mentioned above, there are numerous others which can be cited to support the pro-worker platform of the AFC and its leadership. So why should the AFC and Ramjattan be anti-worker and wanting to take bread out of the mouth of workers?
In the aftermath of the last elections, the AFC and its officials are more visible on the ground attending to people’s grievances than the other two political parties. Let us turn to the specific scenario which unfolded last Tuesday in front of Parliament Building.
A letter was sent by Ramjattan to the Minister of Finance seeking to obtain information on contract workers in some ministries. No response was received to the written request. Ramjattan verbally reminded the Minister of Finance in the corridor of Parliament of his prior request. Still no information was forthcoming.
What is the information that Ramjattan requested? He merely identified about half a dozen ministries, including the Office of the President, requesting from each a list of the top twenty-five (25) contract workers. What is so wrong with making this information available to a political leader?
The Minister of Finance is on record as saying as follows, “In fact within the context of the inter-parliamentary party dialogue forum… I made that point, saying if you have views put them in writing and submit them to us and we would receive them,” (SN 2012-04-19 Budget passage closer).
Ramjattan did exactly as the minister pointed out. He submitted in writing his request for information. The minister, on the other hand, did not give any undertaking to provide the information, except he and his administration would receive the request. The bottom line is that no information has been provided to Ramjattan.
What is Ramjattan to do under the circumstance where information has not been forthcoming? He either raises no objection, in which case the budget would be allowed to pass in the Committee of Supply, or alternatively, give notice of amendment, in which case the subject minister would be obliged to provide the information. Ramjattan opted for the latter course of action by submitting – at least twenty-four hours before the consideration of the estimate – a motion of amendment in order to be compliant with Parliamentary Standing Order.
Up to this point, APNU was on board in support of the AFC approach. The government was very apprehensive that its budget would be derailed. Each ministry mobilized workers – contract and non contract – to protest outside parliament. The message was relayed loud and clear that Ramjattan wanted to trim G$3.8 billion from the budget, mainly affecting contract workers.
A team was invited from APNU to meet with the President. It was agreed at this meeting that pension payment would be upped from the budgeted sum of G$8,100 to G$10,000. There was tentative agreement, also, in other areas where APNU and the government would pursue dialogue.
APNU abstained on the vote of the AFC motion, which caused it to be defeated. Hence, the AFC would not avail itself of the opportunity to undertake a rigourous analysis of the top twenty-five contract workers in the six selected ministries.
Let it be made pellucid here that there was no ulterior motive on the part of the AFC to deprive contract workers of employment. It is known that contract workers straddle all levels, from the office attendant at the low level to the technical and administrative staff at the middle level and at the top level, the professional and consultancy staff. The AFC has no interest in depriving any legitimate contract worker from gainful employment.
The AFC was after the ‘fat cats earning super salaries’ who are political appointees holding on to sinecure positions. Some of these officials are safely ensconced in the Office of the President, for example. Letting them go will certainly have no negative impact. On the other hand, savings will accrue to the government’s coffer.
The mini red-letter day last Tuesday in front of Parliament Building witnessed a large turnout of ministry workers – contract and non contract – whether coerced to do so or opting voluntarily to engage in the picketing and demonstration under the watchful eyes of cabinet ministers. The contract workers were under the mistaken impression that their jobs were at stake. They were duped to participate in an exercise against the AFC which did not pose any threat to their employment. The AFC is and will always remain a pro-worker party.