– “Whatever he says must be taken with a grain of salt”
By Zena Henry
Former President Bharrat Jagdeo has come in for stiff criticism after questioning wage increase
pronouncements being made by the united opposition parties ahead of the upcoming 2015 General Elections.
The former President, at Freedom House last Saturday, ridiculed statements made by his former party colleague, Moses Nagamootoo, who, with his APNU+AFC Coalition, is proposing wage increases for a public sector which the opposition insists has been badly beaten by the current Administration.
While Nagamootoo was proposing around 10 percent wage increases for public workers, Jagdeo was of the opinion that Nagamootoo had no idea what he was talking about, since he knows nothing about policy and what a salary increase would mean for the country economically.
When asked to comment on the proposal, the former president charged that Nagamootoo “wouldn’t know how much it is as a percentage of the country’s GDP or what fraction of the budget deficit it is.” After accusing the former PPP member of being a disgruntled, power-hungry politician who abandoned the party after failing to be elected as the Presidential candidate, Jagdeo said, “If you ask him (Nagamootoo) what (the increase) means, he wouldn’t know. He just plucks these numbers from his head. He is a rabble rouser.”
However, when asked to comment on the wage affordability itself, the former President and Finance Minister refused, stating that, “I’m not going to give Nagamootoo any serious consideration.” He
promised to deal with the “Nagamootoo types” on the rally platform; but nothing on public workers was discussed at the Kitty rally last Sunday.
However, Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC) General Secretary Lincoln Lewis is not impressed by the former President’s statements, and warns that, “Whatever he says must be taken with a grain of salt.” Lewis insisted neither Jagdeo nor his successor President Donald Ramotar “has the moral authority to address any issue objectively that would impact workers welfare.”
“Over the years, he (Jagdeo) and Ramotar imposed wages against the law… the constitution.”
Lewis noted that the GTUC is not interested in numbers (increases) put forward by any of the contending sides, “but the principle of collective bargaining within the public service.” He said government has to engage the unions and return to the ethics of doing things. If for any reason, he said, increases are imposed, then “it would mean we are accepting the same attitude of the government. So while it is a proposal, it is expected that the unions will be engaged.”
Collective bargaining, Lewis reminded, comes under the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention of 1998 and was ratified by Guyana in 1966. This issue is also addressed in the Trade Union Recognition Law passed in 1997 that once the union is recognized, employers are compelled to acknowledge.
Going back to Jagdeo’s record with the public servants, Lewis insinuated that the former president is not to be trusted since to date the 1999 Armstrong Arbitration Tribunal award is still to be honoured. This matter
involves significant strike action resulting from the former President’s insistence that his government could not have paid more than a three percent increase to public workers. He had claimed economic downfall being the result.
However, when speaking on this matter, Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU) President Patrick Yarde had told reporters, that the former president went to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and related that public servants should get only three percent for the next 10 years, because the country could not afford an increase. Yarde said Jagdeo claimed that the country would be economically devastated if the workers got any percentage more than the three percent, “but the arbitrators (reps from the government and union) decided to give public workers 31.1 percent in one year and 26.6 percent the next year; and the national information showed that in 2001 inflation was at its lowest ever.”
“It’s either Jagdeo is the biggest dunce or it was the biggest scam to be played on public workers,” Yarde had concluded.
Lewis then pointed to the 2012 issue of RUSAL/ Bauxite Company and the Bauxite union where this matter went to the court and a ruling was given for the Labour Ministry to reissue the letter of arbitration, but this was never done.
Like Yarde, Lewis insisted that the current Administration is ‘an uncaring and unreasonable government.”
Lewis said that Jagdeo is speaking for a government, “that has no regard for workers’ rights.”
At Whim, Berbice, last Sunday, Prime Ministerial candidate Moses Nagamootoo said that the opposition is proposing a $15,000 increase in Old Age pension and a 10 percent hike in salaries for government workers.
A multi-year proposal by the GPSU suggested 25 and 30 percent wage increase for 2013 and 2014 respectively. A 35 percent increase was also proposed for discussion this year, but talks on these proposals never got off, because the government never considered the proposals, GPSU said.
Annually, increases such as five percent have promoted protest and widespread condemnation in the government’s direction. GPSU says that for more than a decade the government abandoned bargaining agreements with the union and imposed its own increases.
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