Sep 26, 2019 Editorial
The first surprise was that there were not more of these workplace complaints, given how racially antagonistic is this society. The second is that so few racial discriminations reports were registered against the government; and this is in view of the more than a few stormy race-based charges made against the state, at least in the media.
What was encouraging? What was learned? What should be done going forward?
Though far from a perfect world, Guyana is not doing too badly, from a pure numbers’ perspective only. Still, it must be remembered that one racially-charged wound meted against any one racially-discriminated complainant is more than enough; whatever the source: the government or anywhere else.
Even one against government is a terrible mark. This is said because of sporadic allegations of more than a few – of witch hunts, ethnic cleansing, and politically-sponsored purges that made many a public round.
One would have expected a whole host of these things placed before the Ethnic Relations Commission (ERC). Perhaps some did not care enough to go the extra lengths required to make known their situation and hurt; perhaps some, as in so many other areas of life, simply tighten gut, bear their chafe, and move on.
Not worth the bother; nor the wrong kind of publicity; nor the unwanted attention. It was surprising to gather from these numbers made available to the public from the ERC that, to a great degree, political claims of race-tinged work practices were either largely underreported or largely speculative.
It should be helpful to peer some more behind the numbers to determine what they said.
The details from the ERC – which is responsible for receiving these sensitive and painful matters – are enlightening. The focus today is strictly on reports of racial discrimination in the workplace. First, there were just over 25% of the claims of race-based workplace discrimination (13 of 48); though not commendable in this small, suspicious society, this could have been more alarming.
Second, as pointed out before, government agencies had their share of complaints (25%), but much more was expected; that 25% number should be watched carefully and whittled down all the way to zero, whether in place of employment or other state-controlled places.
Third, there was a surprise: the largest number of complainants (50%) were African-Guyanese, while Indian-Guyanese were lower at 34%; the reverse was expected when one considers the traditional ways that the power apparatus operates in the public sector; and different governments at the helm.
In fairness, a sound argument could be made that some of the other categories, such as economic marginalization, political issues, and religious discrimination may have had some element of racial bias; and were significant contributors to the negatives that were experienced.
It is always sensible to remember that this is Guyana, where anything and everything is perceived reflexively through such an unforgiving microscope.
To bring this into everyday reality, there are those workers who underperform, are unresponsive, and do not capitalize on opportunities presented to correct their track record. When they are disciplined, they are quick to allege that it is unfair and unjust and unwarranted. Many develop convenient and short-term memories.
For those on the receiving end of sharp reality checks, there is always the fallback option of racial discrimination, of being targeted because of political prejudice, or of being made an example through improper, if not illegal, workplace practices. That is, practices intended to weed them out; and clear the way for a more racially homogenous workplace environment.
Depending on the circumstances, this could be genuine, imagined, exaggerated, or just completely concocted.
Overall, the ERC reported that a little over 30% (18 of 48) cases were put to rest; though these can be difficult undertakings, an approximate 30% closure rate is a shade on the thin side. Further, the commission did not say specifically which complaints in which categories were completed. In addition, there were sketchy details in the media on the period covered by the numbers. Meaning, whether the 48 complaints (in all categories) were from last year when investigations commenced, or only this year, or otherwise.
In these racially hostile times, it would be better to have none of these complaints.
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