May 01, 2021 Editorial
Kaieteur News – Successive Guyanese governments have failed Guyanese workers. We at this newspaper are unequivocal about the position we take again today, as the nation celebrates a national holiday dedicated to the memories, struggles, and efforts of this country’s workers. As we reflect on those, we wonder about the visions that this government has in mind for citizens harbouring hopes in their hearts and big plans in their heads for a real nice slice of the Guyanese Dream.
Of recent, the Minister of Labour has been making the rounds with one well-directed blast after another aimed at employers as to how they have been treating the working class of this country. His range of targets has included both local and foreign employers, with the word coming from him being: change ways or be ready for serious change. We applaud his efforts, and look forward to more concrete follow-up action on the ground following his strong words. The Labour Minister has spoken about access for his investigating officers, the condition of relevant books and records and their maintenance, and compliance with labour laws, among a host of other topics with much meaning for the Guyanese worker, often mistreated and held hostage, again by both exploitative local and foreign companies. Even further, the minister has signalled that more laws are being worked on to improve the lot of local workers, and to give his officers more tools at their disposal to get a more effective job done.
Once again, this is all for the better, and we have no hesitation in saying that we are in lockstep with the Labour Minister as he endeavours to bring about change. But on the celebration of workers day, this Labour Day, that single word “change” takes on still more significance. For it is change over a long span of years and decades that brought – indeed hauled the Guyanese worker in an uphill struggle from the age of industrial and corporate dungeons – to where they are today. Companies and their owners and managers have resisted and fought back every step of the way, and give up mere pittances in return for the toil, tears, and tortures extracted from Guyanese workers. The bottom-line is that pivotal word and reality represented by change only comes at great cost and from tireless efforts by all parties.
It is why we say that change has to be on the agenda on how our workers are treated, be they white collar or blue collar, or no kind of colour at all. In other words, those workers who have no learning, no standing, no skill must also count in the sweep of changes necessary. Our governments have not been in the forefront of the kind of change that benefits our workers and our treasury. Government officials have been pleased to plaster the ears of listeners on how many jobs they have brought to Guyana, through the presence of foreign investors. But apart from the fancy speeches, and rousing rhetoric, there is the dark side of little to no change. It is where the more things seem to change, the more nothing at all has changed.
Foreign companies come here with big promises and the heady ring of many big rounds of applause from government cheerleaders. But behind the sweet talk and shouted cheers, the emptiness of the Guyanese rank and file worker must not be underestimated. The bottom of the scale wages that they are paid, the health and occupational safety conditions under which they operate, the many instances of disrespect that have been meted out to them, which emphasises the long hard road ahead for our locals. Change to these deplorable aspects of the working conditions of Guyanese workers must come, and those must not take another century of sacrifice and insult, of misuse and management stubbornness to wait for progress.
Change and the progress that comes from both must occur from now especially when local content is so much in the air, that it is now one unending talk show of national proportions. As examples, we offer the minimum standards, in terms of both quality and quantity of jobs made available for Guyanese. And alongside that, just so that nobody tries to pull any fast ones, the overall value of such local content, inclusive of domestic enterprise and the domestic worker. For change to occur that would benefit the Guyanese worker, some things must be non-negotiable right from the inception, which is what some countries have done to protect their people and ensure that they get something meaningful from the national patrimony.
On this Labour Day observed, we close by taking this stand: the time for sloth and pushback must be over. Change must come, and it must come now. Guyanese workers must harvest the fruits of our blessings; Guyana must benefit way more from its many endowments. That would be a Labour Day to remember and to celebrate with zest and vigour.
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