The job situation just got worse. The Guyana Telephone and Telegraph Company is reported to be in the process of laying off 120 workers, over an extended period.
Then on top of this we have an ominous announcement that DIGCEL, another major telephone company, is about to undertake job cuts globally by 25%. It is projected that more than 1600 persons worldwide will lose their jobs with the company, a move that is bound to see the laying off of permanent workers and the downstream businesses in Guyana.
When you add to this the 500-odd jobs which were lost when Barama walked away from its local investment, you realize that a dire employment situation faces the country. The working class already reeling from Bugetary measures is likely to experience more pain in 2017.
APNU had promised, when it was in opposition, that every university graduate would receive a job. That promise has not been kept even though the coalition government has found jobs for thousands of its supporters by a skillful policy of dismissals, non-renewal of the contracts of contracted employees, redundancies and retirements. The coalition has not created many new jobs.
It has, however, found jobs for thousands by simply replacing the jobs of existing workers in the public service. So the supporters of the APNU+AFC cannot be totally unhappy about the job situation.
This, of course, does not solve the serious unemployment problem in the country. Barama may have walked but many believe that they were pushed. The government should have considered the impact of that company walking away. It is believed that more than 500 workers are affected.
There were reports that the government would have given small logging concessions to those affected. It is not clear whether this has been done but even if it was done, where will ordinary workers find the capital to do logging and where will they find markets. You simply do not allow a major employer to walk away from a major investment, especially when you have nothing the pipeline.
All the major investments that are being made at present by the government were things that they inherited from the previous administration. We are even told that the road from Diamond to the East Coast Demerara which the PPP had begun planning for will recommence in May. But why May when this is the rainy season? Why not start the project now?
Similarly, the Mandela Sheriff Street expansion project –again another PPP/C project – will commence soon. But the coalition had two years with this one. The CJIA extension project and new terminal is underway and money has been found for another PPP project, the widening of the East Coast Public Road.
These projects will not necessarily create new jobs. They will utilize the labour of persons who have been not having any work since the new government took over.
The government, when it was in opposition, had promised to veto the Marriott Hotel Project. The opposition had even refused to attend events there. Yet, just recently, the very government has been hosting international conferences there and has done nothing to sell or dispose of the hotel as promised. It is yet to also tell the population what are its plans for the entertainment centre which can create hundreds of new jobs.
In the meantime, the relationship between the government and the private sector has gone sour. Businesses are reporting a slowdown in commercial activity. There are problems with the stability of the exchange rate. All of this does not bode well for employment.
The anticipated contraction in the labour force of GT&T has nothing to do with the local economy. It has everything to do with changes in technology which are forcing telecommunication companies to gravitate more towards the provision of data rather than concentrate in expanding cellular services.
In the case of DIGICEL, there have been concerns expressed about its high debt and this may have triggered the need for restructuring, another way of saying downsizing.
But if two of the largest companies in Guyana can be shedding workers, it sends an adverse signal for the local economy. It could lead to a wait-and-see game by investors, existing and potential.
The situation does not look good. It is time for the government, the private sector and the opposition to meet mend fences and come up with a joint strategy to deal with the impending jobs losses.
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