– Minimum wage hiked by 20%
By Jeanna Pearson
Demerara Distillers Limited (DDL) yesterday signed a Collective Labour Agreement with the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU), the Guyana Labour Union (GLU) and the Clerical and Commercial Workers Union (CCWU), increasing its minimum wage by 20 percent.
The minimum wage was increased from $49, 741 to $60,000, while the company’s piece rate, meal allowances, third shift premium and leave passage assistance will be raised by more than seven percent.
The agreement was signed yesterday at the Ministry of Social Protection, Department of Labour, Brickdam, in the presence of Chief Labour Officer Charles Ogle, who approved its duration.
General Secretary of the GAWU, Seepaul Narine acclaimed the agreement as historic, given the industrial relation situation at this time. He stated that while some employers are refusing to engage in collective bargaining, DDL, a private company, has not chosen that route, and has decided to engage the unions.
The agreement is set for five years—however, they have virtually four years remaining, since this year is already at an end. Nonetheless, at the end of the four years, the parties are expected to deliberate again on a new collective agreement.
Employees of DDL are expected to receive between five and seven percent increases in each year. Except in 2015, they are likely to benefit in a more significant way, because there were adjustments to the scale of 2015.
Narine posited that the increases create a positive attraction for this year. “…that makes it possible for employees to benefit even more than the five, six and seven (percent) we have agreed to, and all these increases are retroactive to January 1, 2015,” he said, adding that the employees were in a better position than the Chief Labour Officer and his staff, who will only benefit from half year.
He indicated that the piece rate will be increased by six percent each year.
“Those who would not have been receiving (increases) would now be receiving because of this agreement,” he added, saying that it is his expectation that the working agreement with the company will continue to be constructive.
Human Resources Director of DDL, Moneeta Singh-Bird, said the company continues to lead the way in industrial relations, since it has been signing multi-year agreements, with the three Unions, since 2003.
“I think this is our fourth multi-year and multi-union agreement,” she said, noting that DDL was satisfied with the agreement because of the raised minimum wage.
“Obviously, jobs that are graded higher than the entry level jobs will receive more than $60,000. Persons who have been employed with the company can also get performance-based increases each year,” she announced, stating that DDL considers its employees important, and similarly, stakeholders in the company.
“We require a lot of our employees and together, as a team, we ensure that the company continues to thrive, even in sometimes difficult national and international environments.”
Presently, the minimum wage for public servants is $50,000 while the private sector starts at $35,000. The government, just months ago, declared a five percent plus $5000 increase on salaries. In the past, public servants implored the previous administration for a reasonable yearly increase, to no avail.
Ogle stated that the ministry has always made recommendations for multi-year agreements, indicating that a one-year agreement doesn’t augur well because of the limited time.
He said should there be inflation in Guyana in excess of 10%, the unions and DDL would re-negotiate, and the workers could anticipate or expect a further adjustment in their salaries to offset whatever the inflation would have exposed them to.
He said it is his opinion that the minimum wage be disregarded and a “living wage” be introduced. “We want people not to just survive and exist, but we want them to live,” he said.
He said that with the government increasing the public servants’ minimum wage, private sector employees should also enjoy an increase. At this point, he signalled that the Ministry will be meeting shortly with the private sector to discuss salaries and wages adjustments.
“It is good to see collective bargaining alive in Guyana,” he said, adding that it was good to see that the parties were able to engage without intervention from the ministry.
However, he highlighted that he did not see any statement on the conditions of working hours.
Head of the Guyana Labour Union Carvil Duncan thanked Ogle for affixing his signature to the agreement. He also applauded the parties for being able to negotiate without a third party.
“… and that is the spirit of negotiations. Negotiation is not expected to go easily…it’s intended to have some obstacles, and if you can overcome them you can move forward,” he said.
About the negotiation, Duncan reflected that even though it appeared to be protracted at times, and there were thoughts to seek advice from the Ministry of Social Protection, the parties battled through the meetings without the ministry’s intervention.
“That’s a clear indication that there is maturity on the side of the management and in the unions. It is my expectation that the maturity demonstrated during the negotiation will continue to be demonstrated throughout the life of the agreement.”
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