This is the first year that a Christmas bonus has ever been paid in Guyana by the government, dating back to at least the mid-1970s. The PNC government never paid any Christmas bonus. They never encouraged the payment of a bonus.
The PPP also never paid any bonus. The PPP paid something called back pay which was earned money. The PPP would in the month of December impose salary increases on workers and make it retroactive to December. This was therefore earned income and the retroactive pay, known as back pay, was what people got to go on the spending spree at Christmas time.
The public service in Guyana therefore has no tradition of receiving any bonus and therefore such payments could not by convention be part of any collective bargaining agreement signed between any union and the government. Unless it is expressly stated in the agreement that a bonus is subject to the terms of collective bargaining agreement, the government is under no obligation to consult with any union on the payment of any bonus.
A bonus is not a condition of service. A bonus is a gratuity. It is non-negotiable and it is at the discretion of the government. There is therefore no basis for the government to consult with any union on the payment of a bonus. To consult would be to make the bonus something other than a gratis payment, which it is not.
The Guyana Trades Union Congress is therefore barking up the wrong tree by accusing the government of violating collective bargaining agreements. It is also jumping on the wrong limb by accusing the government of breaching the trade union recognition law. It is further in the wrong territory by contesting that the payment of the bonus is unconstitutional.
If it is unconstitutional then why not mount an unconstitutional challenge. The payment of a bonus is a privilege of management. It is a discretion of management and cannot be used to supersede the payment of any benefit.
In other words, only if some other benefit is forgone can any union question the payment of the bonus but it is not the bonus per se in this instance that would be the issue. It would be the non- payment of the benefit.
The sugar workers are asking for the bonus. They have a right to ask because this is the first time that a bonus is being paid and they are keen to ensure that they are not excluded from the precedent that is being set. Of course, the government does not have to pay a bonus next year. This can be a one-time bonus.
The workers at the Guyana Chronicle are asking for them to be included in the bonus. They cannot be because like the sugar workers they are part of a public corporation and are not bona fide public servants.
Neither are members of the army and the police which the PPP gave, each year, a one-month salary. This is another kettle of fish. This can be considered a 13th month salary. It may or may not be a bonus depending on whether it has become a convention. The soldiers and police got a $50,000 this year instead of a one month salary. They may have been hoping for both but this would have been unreasonable.
The history of PNC rule – and make no mistake about it, it is the PNC that is running things in Guyana – is that no bonus is usually paid. This year was an exception because the government is still smarting from the controversy that has erupted over the payment of increases to Ministers and parliamentarians. As such, they are trying to appease workers by paying a $50,000 to each public servant.
They should not have bothered. They will have many discontented workers breathing down their necks, including sugar workers and employees of public corporations whose Christmas looks bleak.
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