Nov 21, 2022 Letters
One day before President Dr. Irfaan Ali announced a wage increase of 8% across board for all public sector employees, well known Trade Unionist Dr. Nanda Gopaul and myself were engaged in a discussion on wage increase for the public sector. We both agreed that given an inflation rate of 5.8% (which is below most countries) that an 8% increase across the board is reasonable. We premised this forecast also on the understanding that the Government has made several interventions into the economy to soften that heavy punch of inflation partly attributable to the supply chain problems and the Guyana flood. Public service workers increase would be payable with their December salary, and it would be retroactive to January 1, 2022.
The President listed some of those interventions, including the removal of 50% excise tax on gasoline and duty-free allowance on certain building materials. However, Guyanese might not necessarily appreciate the cumulative impact of interventions as those occurred at separate times under different circumstances. To provide a perspective on this, Financial Analyst, Mr. Joel Bhagwandin conducted an analysis and found that relief measures total over $200 billion (equivalent to $254,452 per capita), or 1/3 (33.5%) of the countrys 2022 national budget.
The President also announced that work is being done to improve the salary scales of employees with low pay in the public sector (such as in the armed forces, Nurses and Doctors, Teachers, frontline workers, etc.) and that an announcement on these adjustments would be made next week. When asked if these measures have relevance to the 2016 Commission of Inquiry into the Public Service of Guyana (i.e., the role, functions, recruitment, training, remuneration, and conditions of service in the public service), the Minister of Labor Mr. Joseph Hamilton said “no,” and notes that the PPP/C Government has been in the process of evaluating the economic situation of workers and families continually and making the necessary interventions for relief.
As Guyana continues to strive to narrow the income gap, as part of the countrys economic development strategy, it has become apparent that, given the current increase in wage and the impending adjustments of the lower-level salary scales, the disparity between the minimum wage level of private and public sector will remain high. The disparity in 2013 was 9.8%; in 2017 it increased to 35.7%; it dropped to 23.9% (when the government increased the private sector minimum wage from $44,200 to $60,147); and it has increased again with the current increase in public sector wage (excluding the additional impending adjustments) to 33.8%.
While the Minister of Labour is aware that the private sector is taking note of the various Governments interventions in the economy, he also says that the impact of the disparity at the minimum wage level is not as great as depicted by these figures since 90% of private sector workers earn more than the minimum wage (of $60,147) and that only 10% of workers are at the minimum wage level.
Minister Joseph Hamilton emphasizes that while wage increase is important to keep pace with inflation and is compatible with workers welfare, this (wage increase) must be considered part of a package that includes workplace safety, leave allowances, uniform grants, scholarship awards, duty-free concessions, among other things. While this wage pay out would increase the disposable incomes of households and individuals, it is unlikely to increase the inflation rate as productivity has also increased across all economic sectors.
Dr. Tara Singh
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