May 28, 2022 News
Protestors ask Gov’t…
Kaieteur News – Taking into account the uninformed manner in which the government has been providing, among other things, financial relief to sections of the country, labour unions and other civil society bodies have expressed grave concern over the continued use of “hand outs” to citizens rather than the employment of useful measures such as increasing the meager $44,200 minimum wage to address the rising cost of living.
The General Workers’ Union (GWU) held another round of its more than two month running protest action yesterday, this time in front of the Ministry of Labour’s Brickdam office, and with the support of civil society group Article 13. Given the increased cost of living, and particularly, rising food prices, the GWU has been relentless in seeking the pay increase which was agreed to since 2019 with the former administration and later committed to by the current People’s Progressive Party (PPP) government.
Prominent Article 13 member Yog Mahadeo expressed solidarity with the underpaid workers. He said that the government must “stop talking about increasing workers wages and just do it.” He said that instead of the administration talking about a bankrupt National Insurance Scheme (NIS), they must pay workers better so that they can make all necessary contributions that go toward supporting them as part of the country’s work force.
“How long do you propose to give cash hand outs before you increase wages?” Mahadeo questioned the administration. He said that when workers are paid properly, they put their money into the bank or spend it; and those sums get back into the community. “Empower our people, pay them well and treat them well and you will see how this country will transform,” he voiced.
Mahadeo further expressed his concern about the cash grants and other reliefs being used as campaigning tools since there is no public provision on how the government is selecting those receiving the grants. For instance, Mahadeo questioned, when the government says they are paying sugar workers, how do they determine who is a sugar worker? He submitted that if the government is paying or assisting sugar workers, then that money should go to the Guyana Sugar Corporation, which is responsible for those workers. “How do we determine who is a sugar worker? There is an audit that needs to happen,” Mahadeo noted.
The Article 13 member agreed that government’s current position translates to handpicking recipients for assistance. He continued that there was a lot of confusion relating to the flood relief for instance where some persons said they were affected but received no help. “Unless and until we can see a proper audit from since the first cash hand outs, then we know the money is just being funneled down the wrong road,” Mahadeo charged.
“We cannot trust a political party to give out to anybody other than its supporters. Simply put in my view, all the cash give outs are electioneering, campaigning from day one. And that is fine if you want to campaign, but whose money are you campaigning with? It’s tax payers’ money, it’s oil money, it’s our money,” he insisted. “So for the President or anybody else to determine on their own sole basis to give a million dollars here and a billion dollars there without looking after the basics like workers wages, then something is wrong with that picture.”
Article 13 says it is in full support of the calls of the labour unions because the minimum wage of $44, 200 is around US$1.16 per hr, “and nobody can live on that.” Mahadeo said if citizens are finding it hard to satisfy their needs and that of their families, some may find ways not conducive to the system to do so. He said every passing day, workers are suffering, “so if they are talking about caring for all of Guyana then it means wages and salaries need to go up.”
President Irfaan Ali had announced earlier this month that following numerous consultations with Guyanese across the country, the government would be accessing some $1.8B of a budgeted $5B in relief funds to purchase fertilizers and handout one-off cash grant payments to riverine and hinterland communities.
Calls by all labour unions poured in during the recent May Day events for increases in not only the private sector $44,200 pay, but also the $60,000 minimum wage, which the public sector enjoys since the latter sum can no longer stand up to rising living costs.
GWU President, Norris Witter said that the government has not responded to letters for consultations, meetings or collective bargaining with unions, far less to seek their input on tackling the dreaded cost of living that grew from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and later amplified by the raging Russian-Ukraine war.
“There has been no response to the unions call for negotiations, for increased benefits and wages, for workers representation or even a response to the unions to discuss the current state of affairs as it affects the working people.” Witter said that he is aware that earlier in the year, sister unions such as the Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU) and the Guyana Teachers Union (GTU) had written to their respective employers, the state, requesting meetings to discuss increases in pay and other conditions. The GWU, he said also wrote to the government, this time, the Agriculture Ministry to have it intervene in a negotiation deadlock between East Demerara Water Conservancy and the Guyana Rice Development Board (GRDB) since both agencies fall within that ministry’s remit.
“We have not to date received any response or any acknowledgement of our letter from the Ministry of Agriculture,” Witter informed. He said his hope is that accusations of being unreasonable and assuming political positions are not used when certain actions are taken due to the government’s refusal to engage with the relevant bodies.
Witter said the GWU is also concerned about the manner in which government seems to be handpicking those it proposes to provide aid. The union categorically stated that it is not against any group or groups being awarded relief from the government. He noted however that the handouts must be done in a way that does not exclude any group and does not insinuate biasness on the part of the government.
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