I am yet to comment on the advocacy first put forward by Dr. Henry Jeffrey (he quoted from his article a year ago to prove that he was the first), then by Clive Thomas that a sum of cash from oil revenue be given to the poor classes. I am thinking it through, though instinctively, I would support any cash given by the state to poor people, and by poor I mean those in Guyana that are really poor; we have a lot in this category.
I cannot understand why the WPA, Justice for All Party, and Keith Scott’s National Democratic Alliance, all of whom are constituent parts of APNU, have not submitted a paper to Cabinet on a framework for helping the very vulnerable in our country. The first idea that comes to mind is the reorganization of the labour department. Below I will repeat my suggestions on the revamping.
Why would anyone suggest the state give cash to poor citizens when a more structural approach can be taken like creating national institutions that the poor can turn to? For example, a woman may prefer to see a functioning labour department that compels the employer of her victimized husband to pay him the huge sums owed to him rather than receive a million dollars every year from the state.
The situation that I will describe below is so overbearing that I went to the Minister of Labour directly and asked for his no-nonsense intervention. A technical worker was employed as a fulltime employee with one of Guyana’s most widely and eminently known commercial entities. It has a one-man ownership. You will be aghast and disgusted if you know the name. But this is God-forsaken Guyana. Who cares?
This employee worked for four hours a day over his eight-hour stipulation. He worked on Sundays and on holidays. He calculated his overtime and went to the owner. The owner was polite and agreed that he would be pay. A year passed; nothing doing. The owner acknowledged the overtime and asked for patience. After 18 months, the overtime came up to a whopping sum. The owner decided that the employee would be paid.
The owner was also told by his employee that he went to the NIS to claim for medical expenses only to be told that for the entire year of 2017 only four remittances were sent to the NIS. The employee went on leave and while on leave, received a letter of dismissal. He got no severance pay. He didn’t receive one month’s salary in lieu of notice. This is a poor electrician with a wife and two kids to feed. He lives in a lower working class flat on the East Coast.
Here is the philosophical part of life. As he explained the entire situation to Minister Keith Scott, the Minister looked at him with bewilderment oozing from his face and said, “And you accepted that situation for 18 months, you encouraged that employer to treat you like that? I then intervened and said; “Minister, you know people have families to feed, they just can’t fight an employer like that.”
So what is the philosophical part of what took place between the electrician and the Minister? After 18 months of taking it, he decided not to take it any longer and what happened? He got fired.
This is where structure comes in and the debate of the suggestion by Henry Jeffrey and Clive Thomas. Instead of handing cash to poor people, why don’t we fix places like the labour department, through which horrible employers can be made to respect the law? In a previous column, I advocated the complete revamping of the labour department.
It should be taken out of the civil service and made into an independent body with legal authority similar to the Ethnic Relations Commission (ERC). Instead of a Chief Labour Officer, who is a civil servant that reports to his minister and receives a salary on the civil service scale, create a Director of Labour Complaints. He should come from the world of retired judges or retired UG academics or similar status. Instead of having labour officers who are paid a measly salary as public servants, create a school of labour investigators for which the requirement should be a university degree.
Under the law, this body, like the ERC, can summon any employer and his/her decision is final. If the decision is not accepted by the employer then that employer should be charged with a criminal offence. Like putting money in the hand of poor people, politicians should suggest putting justice in their hands too.
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