At the same time that the government is complaining about a fiscal crisis, the teachers and public service unions are still unclear as to when wages, salaries and benefits negotiations will recommence.
The Guyana Public Service Union is on record as saying that there has been no agreement on wages negotiations for 2016. The government did make an arbitrary payout to the workers last year but this has been treated by the union as an interim payout on its demands for higher wages for public servants. Negotiations with the teachers are yet to conclude.
In the meantime, the 2017 Budget unleashed a series of taxes on the Guyanese working class, many of which they are only now waking up to discover. The government has imposed VAT on water and on electricity consumption above certain levels. VAT is now being charged on fees for private education. The imposition of a revised environmental tax has led to an increase for items sold in plastic bottles and boxes. These changes have led to an overall increase in prices in the market because the businesses, for example, are simply passing on the increased VAT they have to pay for electricity and water. Wages have increased but it may not compensate for the additional costs which are being borne by consumers.
In the face of these increases, the unions ought to be very eager to commence negotiations on the incomplete negotiations for wages in 2016 and for wage increases in 2017. But to date we have heard of no such demands on the part of the teachers and public service unions to recommence the negotiations.
This demand, if it exists, needs to be made public. The Guyana Teachers Union, in particular, cannot afford to wait until the term or the school year ends to begin negotiations. Once the CXC examinations commence, the teachers will lose whatever leverage they can exercise to demand significant wage increases.
The government has already said that taxes which it is collecting from private fees for education can be seen as an investment in education generally. Teachers should therefore be demanding that the taxes from VAT on private education should go towards helping them enjoy increases in wages, not that it will stretch very far. But the principle is far more important.
If the government is serious about education, it should increase the salaries of teachers by 50%. It should not make excuses about where the money will come from. It should find the money even if it means making judicious on its capital Budget by abandoning that “great wall” that it is constructing. There is a great deal of wastage in public expenditure from which the funds can be found to pay increased wages to teachers.
The police need a 100% increase in salaries. If the government is serious about reducing crime, it will try to find the money to pay these increases and stop hiding, like the PPP/C used to do, behind the excuse of its inability to sustain any increases.
The public bureaucracy is bloated. There are too many one-to-one-reporting relationships, that is, one person is reporting to one person. There are too many positions with the titles beginning with deputy and assistant. There needs to be an evaluation of these positions and those which are found to be unnecessary should go.
For example, why does one need a Deputy Director of Sport in a small country like Guyana? That position should go. All it will take is for the government to look at its organization chart and to find ways of removing unnecessary appointments.
The monies can be found to fund increased wages for teachers and police and public servants. If the government, however, wants to be cautious, it can commit to paying teachers and the police a significant increase this year with nurses next year and other personnel in 2019. But something should be done immediately about teachers and police pay.
These things will not happen unless the unions become more militant and unless the workers are prepared to take action to press for increased wages. The unions are only as strong as the willingness of its membership to take action to press its demands. But the unions must be the first to request that negotiations commence on wages and salaries for 2017, otherwise we will end up as was done for so long under the PPP/C, the imposition of wage increases outside of negotiations with the unions.
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