The Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU) has a taken a realistic approach to wages negotiations. The union did not overstretch itself during the negotiations with the government.
Its initial proposal for a 40% increase in wages and salaries was below what the government Ministers had approved for themselves. The union was demonstrating reasonableness in not calling for 50% – the amount that the Cabinet gifted its Ministers.
The union was conservative in its demands. Fourteen years ago the GPSU had demanded a minimum wage of 33,000. Using that as a base, the minimum wage should have been about 75,000 today just catering for inflation alone.
The union will take a lot of heat for asking for a 40% increase in wages when it is known that the Ministers of the government handed themselves a 50 % increase in salaries. The GPSU however has been realistic and it would have been difficult for them to have asked for a 50% across the board.
The union agreed with the government on a graduated approach. This has its pros and cons. It satisfies those in the lower salary bands, but it leads to dissatisfaction for professionals. The government, by giving more to the bottom and less at the top, will not stem the exodus of trained professionals from the system. The socialist approach of rewarding the lower paid workers more than the higher paid workers is counterproductive in the long run.
The graduated approach has backfired on the union. The government has used it to give an offer that is way below what the union was originally demanding.
The government has also given the union an ultimatum. The government has made a final offer and it is either for the union to accept or reject. For all intents and purposes, the negotiations are over.
The union will either have to accept or reject. It will lose either way. If it accepts, there will be forces which will accuse it of betraying the workers. It is rejects the final offer, the workers will be worried that they may not enjoy an increase. The government knows this and therefore has the upper hand on the union, which no longer has the capacity to call a strike or to pursue any meaningful industrial action.
The position of the union that it was interested in a living wage is now of academic value. It apparently has no bearing on the negotiations and is now being put on the backburner as far as the government is concerned.
What the union should have done was instead of negotiating wages, it should have negotiated a living wage, and having this agreed to by the government, then decided how many years it would give the government to pay the living wage.
The government obviously was not interested in negotiating a living wage because this would have placed pressure on the government to make a substantial deposit into the living wage pot. The union must reconsider its strategy in the negotiations.
The government wage bill is too high to continuously sustain high wage increases. The revenue base of the government is too limited. Taxes are already high. The solution has to be smaller government, a leaner public service, and the contracting out of a number of the services undertaken by the government.
The public service also is too bottom-heavy. There are too many low-paid workers. The public service needs to be trimmed
It is hard for unions to agree to this, but if the GPSU is really serious about a living wage, then the only way a living wage can be paid is by reducing the size of the public service workforce.
The government should begin by trimming the number of drivers. Only the Ministers should be entitled to chauffeurs. The rest of drivers should be phased out. The second category is clerks. There are too many clerks, secretarial staff and office assistants. These positions should be rationalized. The third category is any position that has the prefix Deputy or Assistant. There is no need for these positions at all. Get rid of one of these levels.
The fourth category should be any position in which there is one-on-one reporting. If in the organizational chart, one person reports to one person, this is too vertical an arrangement and the organization needs to be flattened.
The final category is all those unnecessary persons whose only claim to fame is their political affiliation. Weed them out and with increased privatization of services, the public service will become more manageable. Much higher wages can then be paid.
As things stand now, the public service is too cumbersome, too unwieldy for sustained wage increases.
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