– prepared to go beyond duration of 57-day 1997 strike
By Zena Henry
The Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU) is preparing to take serious action if a 48-hour
ultimatum issued to the government is not met. It is the union’s opinion that the government has once again imposed five and eight percent increases on public servants. While the union is still contemplating its actions, it is demanding that the Administration hear its calls or the public could look forward to a response to the government’s defiance within a week after the 48 hours would have expired.
President of the GPSU Patrick Yarde told media operatives during a press conference at the union’s headquarters yesterday that if the government remains defiant, he is prepared to “lead” regardless of the consequences. “In 1997 we had a 57-day strike, and I am prepared to lead beyond that if necessary,” the union head warned.
Yarde expressed disgust at the “imposed wages” and laid the blame squarely at the feet of Head of State, President Donald Ramotar. Yarde reminded that on more than one occasion, President Ramotar assured the public that wages would not be imposed and that discussions would be held with the union for “workable” wage increases.
In a letter sent to President Ramotar yesterday, Yarde said he reminded the Head of State of his utterances and provided physical evidence of promises made.
“Isn’t there any minimum moral standard that public servants can expect from anyone in this government?” Yarde asked, as he expressed that based on earlier statements by the President to bargain with the workers’ union, “he had created a legitimate expectation not only within the ranks of the union, but also to public sector workers.”
Yarde said that, “the arbitrary imposition of five to eight percent is an insult and is therefore rejected”. However, in the meantime, Yarde said the Union is prepared to accept the eight percent increase as an interim offer across the board to all public service workers and demands that Government officials commence negotiations with the GPSU within the stated 48 hours.
President Ramotar had explained in March that there was no wage/salary increases allocated in this year’s budget because the union opted for bargaining and he assured that would have occurred.
However, on the many occasions that the union made contact with the relevant ministry to commence salary increase talks, they got no definite answer. In June of this year and as recent as September 15, the union was told by Permanent Secretary in the Public Service, Hydar Ally, that he was “still awaiting guidance on the issue of wages and salaries negotiations for 2014 from the relevant agencies.”
The letters, on both occasions were copied to the President, Prime Minister, Public Service Ministry, Labour and Finance. Despite this, Yarde said there was no attempt to engage the union in any discourse. He is of the view therefore, that given all that occurred with wage increase impositions over the years, “it appears as if we were the target of a conspiracy that was featured with layers of deceit.”
He said, “Clearly there is a sequence” of events that occurred earlier in the year that directly led to wages and salaries being imposed on public servants.
CHALLENGING THE EFFECTIVENESS OF THE UNION
The GPSU President was not spared, however, as members of the media challenged the effectiveness of the union in its representation of the workers. For 13 consecutive years, government has ignored the legal requirement of Collective Bargaining and arbitrarily imposed wages and salaries on public workers and many believe that union leaders allowed it to happen.
Many have also criticized the seemingly lax attitude of union leaders in demanding the attention of the government to concur on rules and regulations that relate to public sector workers. To that, Yarde said that the union is not a hasty organization, and there are procedures to be followed.
He said that the union is every member and anything determined must be within the union’s policy. “Decisions are also made at certain levels; the various members must have a say in what occurs as they come from various political divides and races,” Yarde asserted.
He advised that there are many things to be taken into consideration when taking certain action, particularly strike action, since public servants serve all citizens and they (citizens) stand to be affected most when relevant services are not available during standoff action.
Additionally, Yarde believes that the government’s plot is to keep public servants dependent on it, so that measures such as intense protest become difficult as workers suffer economically and otherwise. “During a strike you are not paid,” Yarde charged, and when asked, he said although the union is able to help its members to some degree, it is not equipped to finance certain levels of defiant action.
On another issue, Yarde, when asked about correspondences previously sent to the European Union and the foreign missions here, said that the letters are to keep the agencies abreast with what is happening in the public sector given certain agreements signed with the foreign bodies. However, he is of the belief that the yearly imposition on workers is a “Guyanese problem.”
He believes that Guyanese must stand up and react to the constant impositions of the government. He recalled in 1994 when the union took action, citizens were affected and they believed that it was harsh for the workers to go on strike.
“The public must be willing to understand and aid when workers strike for their rights,” Yarde stressed. He said it is always to prevent unwanted stagnation of people’s lives, businesses and the like, that the union refuses to be hasty.
Over the weekend, government announced the aforementioned increases for the public sector workers. Last year, the Administration budgeted some $4.4B for public servant wage increases, but they still received the usual sum. Finance Minister Dr. Ashni Singh was requested by both the opposition parties and GPSU to provide a paper trail of the money’s spending. It did not manifest and public servants staged countrywide protest action until the Christmas season kicked in and demonstrations died naturally.
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