Ending the PPP/C’s anti-working class stance would confirm that the President’s assertions are serious
It was very disheartening following the budget debate, from within the Parliament itself and by reference to reports from the various arms of the media in Guyana and further afield. The Government elements and their collaborators would have us believe that the budget is pro-working class, but as you know my opinions differ in that regard.
In support of my opinion I found an article By American writer Stephan Richter entitled “Catholics Vs. Victorians: The Battle for the Future of America”, dated April 17, 2012, which puts my views in perspective in the following excerpt, which was a core finding of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that offered several moral criteria to help guide difficult budgetary decisions, based on the tenets of Catholic social teaching.
At the core of it all is the finding that “the moral measure of this budget debate is not which party wins or which powerful interests prevail, but rather how those who are jobless, hungry, homeless or poor are treated,” the U.S. bishops said in their May 5, 2011, letter to the U.S. Senate.
Specifically, they held that the three moral criteria in making budgetary decisions are:
• Every budget decision should be assessed by whether it protects or threatens human life and dignity.
• A central moral measure of any budget proposal is how it affects “the least of these” (Matthew 25). The needs of those who are hungry and homeless, without work or in poverty should come first.
• Government and other institutions have a shared responsibility to promote the common good of all, especially ordinary workers and families who struggle to live in dignity in difficult economic times.
I share the view that these guidelines are fundamental to the considerations by any working class political party in the conceptualization and preparation of a national budget.
If these considerations were seriously observed, then the outcome of Guyana’s 2012 Budget would have been different. Instead, we had the maneuvering of Government in its prelude to give an aura of power to the opposition, followed by vainglorious speeches in support of its content. What was needed was the cooperation of both sides of the house in the interest of the people. It’s a small wonder that the President found it necessary to call in the Leader of the Opposition at a late hour to make miniscule amends, when much time was wasted in “turkey struts” following the election in November 2011.
Yes “turkey struts”! These nevertheless evaporated into political maneuvering, misrepresentation and other threats to workers’ well being when it became apparent that parts of the opposition would not tolerate the funding of political cronies under the guise of contract workers.
Yes! Workers were bullied and made to join a picket line to support a blatant misrepresentation of Government. It should be noted that permanent workers for the Public Service are hired by the Public Service Commission, within an approved structure, to give professional career service to the Government of the day through the implementation of policy and other decisions, while treating citizenry without fear or favour, in a fair and even handed manner.
Contract workers are hired by the Public Service Ministry under the Office of the President and the majority are improperly positioned in fixed establishment positions, while being so designated that they do not have security of tenure and often times serve different ends.
Why is there a need for a parallel public service? Why employ persons in Fixed Establishment positions on Contracts? At the helm of most Ministries, Regional Administrations or Foreign Missions are hard core PPP/C operatives that are on service contracts. This means that traditional Public Servants cannot aspire to positions of leadership in the Government services,unless they stoop to cronyism, and so on.
It was disgusting to sit in Parliament to hear Ministers of Government furthering the case for political cronies and wider contract categories. It was also revolting to hear them misrepresenting to that honourable House that contract employment with Government is permanent employment and that it was optional, based on the desires of these employees, to be placed on the fixed establishment.
At no time was consideration given to the other workers, except to mention that the tax threshold was increased. Were Public Servants not worthy of other considerations? What about the other recommendations of the GPSU? The Minister in rebuttal also took time off to make spurious and unconvincing arguments about why a cut in VAT would not be helpful. “Do the math” he said. It would seem that it’s only in his clever little world that to reduce means “more”, but further I say no more on this aspect.
On Labour Day (Workers’ Day), in every nook and cranny there was a deafening call by workers’ for decent jobs, enhanced benefits, equity, fair dealings and justice for all. The following realities currently exist:
• Workers are being exploited;
• Hard won improved conditions of work are being eroded;
• The economic benefits of workers are so eroded that more and more of them are joining the ranks of the employed poor on a daily basis and are living in poverty;
• Job security is disappearing and superannuation benefits and pensions threatened;and
• The Union is under attack and members are constantly pressured and/or asked to commit to ethnic consideration in order to miniaturize the Union’s strength.
All this is taking place in an environment where jobs are harder to come by and income and wealth disparities grow. President Ramotar’s message on Labour Day required him to first recognize all of the PPP/C contributions to trade union disunity and/or the anti-trade union policies and actions, which successive PPP/C Governments have implemented to the detriment of the working class. Let’s name a few, viz.
• Failure to improve the allowances of workers since 1995, even though faced by rising prices across the spectrum of necessary goods and the ignoring of a related award, made by the Armstrong Tribunal in 1999;
• The implementation of the Region’s highest Value Added Taxes (VAT) without consideration for the planned personal development of workers and their families;
• The removal of the subventions of the Critchlow Labour College and Guyana Trades Union Congress without consideration for the families of related workers and students, who desperately depended on the education facilities these institutions provided;
• The contemptuous treatment Public Servants’ wages and salary negotiations and related agreements with the Union to the effect that these would always culminate in the imposition of slender increases, more so at Christmas when prices are considerably higherand public officers are desperately out of pocket and in need; and
• The marginalization of the Guyana Public Service Union.
If the President was serious that the budget or his Government was working class, then he would lead by example by ending the anti-working-class stance the PPP/C took after the unfortunate demise of President Dr. Cheddi Jagan in March 1997. In so doing, he should take immediate and positive steps to have them corrected and earn the credibility for bringing about the desired change.
It is noteworthy that an even more powerful President, Barack Obama, on May Day pledged to stand up for Workers’ Rights and as if lecturing to his counterpart in Guyana said “I believe our economy is stronger when workers are getting good wages and good benefits, I believe the economy is stronger when collective bargaining rights are protected…the right to organize and negotiate fair pay for hard work, that’s the right of every American, from the CEO in the corner office all the way to the worker who built that office”.
That noble President’s statement and his action are consistent and pro-worker since the time of his election.
Patrick M. Yarde
President, Guyana Public Service Union