Kaieteur News – When conducting a tour of a mining site operated by a foreign multinational, the Minister of Labour said he did not feel free. He ought not to; he was on somebody else’s property and therefore has to be subject to their rules.
But it is not the company’s rules which ought to trouble the Minister. He should be more concerned about the rules which will come down from his bosses within the government. He should be worried about that because it is more than likely that the withdrawal of the remarks which he made would have been occasioned by the displeasure vented by his political handlers.
The PPP/C leaders are smitten by the propertied class. Criticism of and by this class makes the government become extremely jumpy. A few days ago, the government was virtually on its knees, grovelling at the feet of the private sector, after an ill-advised and misguided statement emanated from an official of the Private Sector Commission threatening to pull out from the National COVID-19 Task Force.
The Minister of Labour may be pro-working class. But he is part of a government that is in bed with the barons of the private sector. He therefore has to be careful about what he says about the friends of the government.
While the government may be pro-business, it is not pro-all-business. There is a segment of the bourgeois class which it favours, and a segment with which it dislikes. In the 2020 Budget, the government announced concessions for selective investments in the hotel- construction sector. If the government had been supportive of the entirety of the private sector, it would have rolled out these concessions to all, but it does not wish to be seen to be granting concessions to a local hotel, which is expanding its operations.
Workers of Guyana must open their eyes. If the government is selective with the private sector, it is not going to be elective about workers. It has said nothing much so far about improving wages and benefits for workers.
Workers have suffered setbacks under the PPP/C. Legislation was passed which mandated overtime for work in excess of 40 hours per week. The government itself ended up breaching its own regulations. It was unwilling to pay drivers for the hours which they spend on the job waiting on their political masters. Some of these drivers have to sit for hours and wait while their bosses wine and dine at their leisure.
Presently, there is a demand for the national minimum wage to converge with the public service minimum wage of $70,000. But you can bet your bottom dollar that this is not going to happen because the private sector friends of the government are going to revolt at the idea that they must pay their maids, gardeners and dog-walkers at this rate.
It is resistance from the private sector which is preventing the government from setting a standard national minimum wage. It is resistance from the private sector which is preventing the government from enforcing its overtime regulations.
Foreign companies come to Guyana and are lavished with duty free concessions. They enjoy concessions even on corporation taxes. The only taxes which many of these companies pay are the taxes on workers income. In other words, it is the workers who are paying taxes in these foreign companies.
Workers are treated as second class citizens. It is the foreign companies and the favoured local firms who enjoy the benefits.
The Minister of Labour will have his work cut out when it comes to dealing with private companies. He should start with the issue of overtime and meal allowances. He should ensure that the overtime regulations are implemented and improved to the satisfaction of workers. He should insist on time and half pay for workers on Saturday and double pay on Sundays.
Then he should examine what some of these private companies are paying their workers. There are some supermarkets which are paying workers $1,500 per day to work from 9am until 6pm. These are the things which should make the Minister uncomfortable, not walking around a mining site while being tailed by company officials.
The company officials have a right to be at his heels. He is their guest. He is on their property. No person, Minister or others, should feel at liberty to walk around freely as he or she pleases on some else’s property.
If the Minister felt uncomfortable walking around that mining site, you can imagine how he is going to feel when he visits some of these sweatshops which are being operated by elements of the bourgeois class, the same class which is in bed with his government.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.)
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