Mar 14, 2022 News
– trade union leaders urge government
Kaieteur News – Trade union leaders are contemplating ways in which they think the government can assist citizens cushion the blows from the current economic fallout, sparked by the Russian/Ukraine war.
They believe that with the pressures brought on by the Covid -19 pandemic that has led to price increases in consumer commodities globally and the ongoing Russia-Ukraine unrest that has caused significant increases in oil prices, the Irfaan Ali Administration must find a way to save citizens from the hardship of these changes.
Guyana Agricultural and General Workers’ Union’s (GAWU) General Secretary, Aslim Singh, noted that while the matter of cushioning requires a holistic view to determine how that course should be tread, he is adamant that some type of relief must be provided. He said that, “while the matter has to be looked at comprehensively to determine what specific measures may be required, at the same time a subvention or some form of allowance must be provided.” He said however that the sustainability of the measures must be examined since it is unclear how long the current situations will last.
Lincoln Lewis of the Guyana Trade Union Congress (GTUC) said, “Government must find money to cushion the increases and not allow citizens to stand alone in these times.” The veteran trade unionist went on to state that government must prioritise spending to ensure that people are taken care of. “They are finding money for everything; big projects and lots of spending, they must not deny the negative impact the current situation is having on citizens’ economic and financial situation.”
Late last week the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Guyana (FITUG) reiterated calls for government to hasten their pace in approving a $60,000 minimum wage increase for persons earning below the current minimum wage. The national minimum wage stood at $44,200 but was increased to $70,000, yet, not all adopted the change where the private sector is concerned. Lewis lent his voice to this call, agreeing that these workers must receive this minimum wage increase. He posited that it would not only benefit private sector workers. He said sugar workers would also be beneficiaries of this change since they too are still receiving wages below $50,000.
He described this scenario as a “double standard” where other state workers are paid at the $70,000 minimum wage threshold while others are still being paid at the previous amount. Lewis said that while this $60,000 increase has not been rectified, it is an outdated matter since the decision to raise the workers’ pay was made since 2019. It is situations like these, the trade unionist said that demand government to do more in the current economic climate.
Dawn Gardner, Vice President of the Guyana Public Service Commission (GPSU), said that support in the current economic situation is on the table for discussion at her union’s level but said no position has been taken on the matter since they will meet to discuss same. “Yes, I can say that that matter is on the cards and up for discussion.”She said when it comes to such issues the union is not only speaking up for its members, but for all citizens since everyone stands to be impacted by rising gas prices and food cost.
The local unions say they have all recognized the added pressures on Guyanese. Since the height of the pandemic that saw nations of the world going into lock down to stymie the spread of the virus, economic activity had taken a serious hit. Shortages in commodities, increases in production cost, importation cost among other areas of commerce became real issues. Right here in Guyana citizens saw bread prices move from $240 to $300, $360 to as much as $400 at one point.
Other basic goods like cooking oil, rice, flour among others also saw significant price increases as international food organizations like the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) pointed to a more than 20 percent increase in global food prices. With rising prices at the pumps, concerns are loud about the impact this would have on already increased transportation cost; production and consumer items.
Within a short time, prices at the pump jumped significantly. Where drivers had paid $205, $206 and $210 per litre for petrol, they were paying almost $250 per litre just hours later. The Guyana government has not put a figure forward, but committed to an increase in workers’ pay. Sonia Parag, Public Service Minister said in her budget presentation last month that, “The planned increase of public workers’ wages and salaries in 2022, will be complemented by the increase in the income tax threshold to $75,000. This means, as salaries increase, the minimum wage to pay taxes will be elevated, allowing more money in the pockets of taxpayers.”
During a news conference last week Sunday, President Ali said his government is not turning a blind eye to the rise in cost of living and has allotted $5 billion in budget 2022 to cushion the effects. He said the constant rise in oil prices on the world market affects every aspect of life. Nevertheless, the increase in cost of living is at the top of government’s agenda, and is being dealt with on multiple fronts, which includes addressing input cost and issues at the consumer and market levels.
“One; is that we set aside $5 billion in the budget for cost of living adjustment. We have to finalise the programme and the consultation has started on that. Secondly, we have to find a way in terms of economies of scale for example with the purchase of fertilizer, because one of the other major problems we have is the draught of the Demerara River. So, instead of one 30,000 tonne ship coming in, you can only have 7,000 tonnes. So, we have an added problem in terms of transportation,” President Ali stated.
He said with what is happening in Ukraine in Eastern Europe, the logistic issues are expected to worsen with the sanctions on airspace. Since taking office, government has introduced several measures to put more disposable income in the pockets of Guyanese. From the onset, Value Added Tax (VAT) was removed from water and electricity, a burdensome measure placed on the backs of Guyanese.
There has also been the constant increase in old-age pension and public assistance which in 2022, put $2.3 billion and $432 million into the pockets of Guyanese. Additionally, the PPP/C Government reinstated the ‘Because we Care’ cash grant and school uniform cash grant which stands at $30,000 per child in both public and private schools. The President Ali -led administration also cut excise tax on fuel on several occasions in light of rising fuel prices since taking office.
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