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In a few hours, Guyana and the rest of the world would embrace the New Year 2021. Before outlining/defining our mission permit me first of all to thank all members of our union for their invaluable contributions to the effectiveness of our organization and its ability to overcome, prevail and withstand the onslaught and obstacles that arise.
In this New Year all Guyanese would be challenged with desires and aspirations for advancement of the quality of life.
Before embarking on our future visions and intentions, I would like to reflect on past experiences since I assumed the presidency of the Guyana Public Service Union.
Over the past year, the Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU) took pride in encouraging and motivating its members towards the delivery of quality public service, effectiveness in advancing developments, nation building in a way that earns the respect of users of public services and to garner support and contribution for the modernization of the Public Service, as a basis for optimizing its efficiency.
At the same time, similar importance was placed on ensuring that the Union’s members were fairly treated, bargaining processes were triggered for adequate remuneration and the maintenance of safe and healthy work environments. The response from the employer while addressing the concerns of public service workers was most times insensitive, very distressing and difficult to comprehend.
Workers’ rights were often violated and lawful measures for the avoidance and settlement of disputes were ignored with impunity. It was as if Government, the employer, had declared war on its workers and by extension their Trade Union. Why would a Government that claims to be working class be so uncaring by openly suppressing merited benefits due to workers, willy-nilly violations of existing Collective Agreements that were entered into by the government and the Union, collective bargaining and ILO Conventions that were ratified by Parliament were flouted.
An Agency Shop Agreement was arbitrarily terminated, Court Orders were disrespected and the rights of workers were treated with contempt and disregard. Peaceful protests and demonstrations by public service workers were treated with hostility, even shot by the police and condemned by one Government for daring to struggle to elevate themselves out of poverty, while that very same Government showed favour to workers organized by another Union that formed part of its political framework.
In 2015, the change of government gave rise to great expectations, given many campaign promises. Among those were the reinstatement of Agency Fees Agreement between Government and GPSU, re-introduction of wages and salaries negotiations and collective bargaining, restoration of the GPSU Sports Complex to give public sector workers a venue to enjoy quality recreation with their families and acquaintances, restoration of a political free professional career public service, re-energizing of the public sector workforce and last, but not least, the implementation of a minimum pay in the public service that represented a living wage.
In fact, it was expected that a very concerted approach would have been made to elevate workers out of their current “hand to mouth” poverty stricken existence and that government would have shown inclusiveness and that would have been meaningful involvement, but this did not happen.
Persons that were once close and available were now very distant and out of touch and many put in strategic positions to block and undermine the advancement of matters put to it by the Union and critically to fragment Union’s membership.
The experiences were most frustrating and relationships disappointingly depreciated to very low levels and the emergence of deceit, with plots to remove the leadership of the Union. When that failed, the Guyana Public Service Cooperative Credit Union, a billion-dollar agency, was targeted.
The Credit Union was the brain child of the former leaders of the Union and was initially housed at the headquarters of the Union. Through the diligence of the Union’s leadership it blossomed into a very successful credit union, while serving its members. Its seizure from members’ control was wicked and vindictive and all efforts are necessary to have it restored to its membership control. So, as you can see, the change of government in essence was a basic exchange that yielded no improvements to livelihood, because GPSU encountered similar and identical obstacles, was confronted with enormous challenges to avoid being stagnated and ineffective.
Now, in the aftermath of five months of disputes and court decisions, etc. that followed the March 2, 2020 General and Regional elections, the PPP/C, having been declared the winner and sworn into Government, is conducting itself in similar manner. During that same period of the election and the eventual declaration the country was confronted with the deadly Coronavirus.
During that turmoil-ridden election’s period the country was confronted and dealt with the effects of the deadly coronavirus. Many of our members, especially those in healthcare, were on the frontline braving the effects of the virus, saving lives, among other things. Little knowledge of the traits of the virus existed and the workers were scantily equipped with personal protective equipment (PPE). There was an expressed unwillingness to pay risk allowances to them, even though they were committed in their involvement to discharge this essential duty at great risk to their lives and those of their families. They were however steadfast and battled through curfews and lockdowns, which a negative economic effect and many restrictions that ultimately impacted on their finances. In fact, to be effective required firstly their safety and this came at additional cost, which a caring Government would either cover or subsidize in the form of “risk allowances.” There was also the issue of their mental health which is still being evaluated.
The incoming government soon after taking office started to lift the restrictions and opened the country, which undoubtedly contributed to an increase in persons being infected and a large percentage of deaths. What was also most disturbing was the termination of workers, insensitivity to the economic hardship of the public service workers by not allocating funds for increasing salaries and wages. To share some specifics only $150 Million was allocated to pay our most valuable human resource, front line workers who are facing death due to the Coronavirus, while at the same time making available $7.6 Billion for GUYSUCO, an industry that proved to be unprofitable for past decades, and was heavily subsidized by the public treasury. This act was openly pandering to its political support base, rather than a practice of prudent economics which would be beneficial to all.
This, at the end of 2020, is a very gloomy situation, an environment of depression and a very restrictive festive season, where many were put on the breadline, jobless and without earnings, in desperate pain and at the mercy of those who would do anything to survive. This is the state of affairs that 2020 ends in Guyana. In the coming year let us endeavor to turn this hopelessness around and build confidence for a brighter future.
Brothers and Sisters, unity throughout the membership is necessary to confront and remove the obstacles to a better future. It is clear that in unity there is strength and once dissension is created within our ranks it weakens the ability to defend the positions taken for the improvement of employment conditions and ultimately destroy that which was toiled for over the 97 years of existence of your Union, which of course predates the formation of any existing political party in Guyana.
It is therefore necessary to intensify the struggles: (a) for a living minimum wage for the Public Service; (b) to destroy the scourge of racism and discrimination; and (c) eliminate all undesirable tendencies, internal and external unconscionable practices.
As the premier workforce, we must lead by example, demanding that the government be inclusive and involve the stakeholders in meaningful discussions in pursuit of national goals to benefit all in an equitable way. Examples must be set for Governments to follow, given that thus far these have been misguided and have repeatedly acted in bad faith, perpetuating unprincipled practices, double standards and acts of racial and/or political discrimination.
It is necessary therefore to mobilise and take appropriate action to attain all constitutional and legal rights and hold Government’s “feet to the fire” in the performance of that which they were foresworn to do. All must demand professional conduct from state institutions, including the Police Force and condemn any or all actions of political intervention that reduces the operations of these institutions to mere conduits of political lawlessness that would over time abuse the constitutional rights of people. It is necessary therefore to strive for national unity.
To meet the objective of national unity, it would be necessary to expose and confront the selfish elements in our society that incite unlawful, unconstitutional, uncaring, inhumane and un-humanitarian practices, who like elements of the Private Sector Commission subscribe to the abuse of workers, set obstructions to the payment of a living wage as was most recently done, when a paltry minimum wage of sixty thousand dollars monthly was proposed.
This must be our mission and in pursuit of our objective we must make every effort to win the support of open-minded people and build national harmony to enhance cultures of value for humanity. There must be genuine care for each other, giving true meaning to our national motto of “One People One Nation One Destiny”.
To all members, I would like to say thanks for your support during 2020 and would welcome your involvement in 2021 in the interest of all Guyanese and for the prosperity of our beloved country, Guyana.
A happy new year to you and best wishes for the health and safety of your families or loved ones.
May God continue to bless us all and keep us safe.