A special appeal was made to the government last week by trade unionist Kenneth Joseph to ensure dignified employment for Guyanese citizens and to prevent them from being exploited by both local and foreign employers.
The Federation of Independent Trade unions of Guyana’s (FITUG) General Secretary was one of the featured speakers during the World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU) International Action Day 2014 celebrations. He urged government to reject “disrespect” by not offering up Guyanese as cheap labour to foreign investors.
Joseph later told Kaieteur News that he has recognized in communication to international businessmen that “we (Guyanese) are regarded as cheaper labour by our government.”
He said, “When we sell ourselves, we present our labour as being cheap and it is supposed to serve as a positive for investment.” An example, he said, is a few years ago when the national sugar plan was being done for the European Union (EU). “One of the statements made in that plan was that one of the humbugs was that the sugar industry had two strong unions. So that was not a positive in the way they sold GUYSUCO (Guyana Sugar Corporation).”
Joseph claimed that in most instances, when business arrangements are being made externally, the government keeps touting that Guyanese provide cheap labour. “That is a positive for government and businessmen, but it is not a positive for us. When you look at information being sent outside through email and such, you will see that Guyana is portraying itself as a country that has cheap labour as one of its attractions.”
Joseph had mentioned also that while government must enforce minimum wage and other worker-friendly conditions, the disrespect of “cheap labour”, which is being enforced on a lot of people, must be ruthlessly and relentlessly stamped out.
“Foreigners must not be allowed to exploit workers with long hours, harsh conditions and low pay.”
The trade unionist said that many persons are seeking educational training from a very young age. He further stated that it is in those persons interest to equip themselves with personal life skills to earn and contribute to their community and society.
He spoke of a peoples’ dignity being at risk when in pursuit of employment and cannot attain this. “Their pride and esteem take a dive… development and growth stalls,” Joseph said.
Not too long ago, matters involving Guyanese employment in Chinese controlled contracts had surfaced. There was much talk when the Chinese commenced work on the Marriot Hotel and the Cheddi Jagan International Airport (CJIA) expansion project, where very few Guyanese were employed.
More recently, Chinese logging company Bai Shan Lin had been pulled in when local employees complained of being paid as low as $500 a day.
Minister of Labour Nanda Gopaul told Kaieteur News that his Ministry is monitoring working conditions with foreign and local companies to ensure that national laws are upheld. In relation to the logging company, the Minister said that his Ministry never received a complaint, however it was able to ascertain that persons were not being paid $500 per day but it was a mere allowance on days when the employees services were not needed.
Gopaul explained that in cases where few or no Guyanese were employed by the Chinese, it was because specific jobs had to be identified and contracted out where Guyanese expertise was not available. He said however, several local private companies have benefited indirectly from many of the Chinese dominated projects.
For example, local entities provided stones, cement and blocks among other things for the Marriott Hotel construction thereby benefiting indirectly, while many Guyanese will benefit directly when operations commence.
It was reiterated that the Labour Ministry’s Central Manpower and Recruitment Agency has been modernized and upgraded so that all unemployed Guyanese may have a chance at work. The Minister reported that thousands of jobs are available but no one to fill vacancies. He said more local employers are registering vacancies than citizens are reporting unemployment.
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