Guyana Trades Union Congress’ Submission to the Ethnic Relations Commission “National Conversation on Improving Ethnic Relations”

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The Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC) retains abiding interest in a fair Guyanese society. This means the inalienable rights of every group and individual will be upheld and everyone will be treated with respect and dignity as mandated in the Constitution of Guyana. To this end, the GTUC, in March 2021, made a submission to the Ethnic Relations Commission’s (ERC) National Conversation on Improving Ethnic Relations. GTUC hopes when the new ERC Commissioners are appointed they will continue the Conversation of the previous Commission since such is vital to fostering a cohesive society.

Articles 13 and 149C of the Constitution mandate workers/citizens and their organisations play productive roles in the country’s development. Whereas there exist such duty and responsibility sections of society are being denied the opportunity to equally participate and benefit. Consequently, the GTUC submitted the undermentioned proposal to the ERC, which is considered a mechanism to constructively confront the nation’s social, political and economic problems: –

Inclusionary democracy

The framers of the Constitution, in principle, sought to address this nation’s racist birth defect through forging a political system built on “inclusionary democracy.” Should this political system be pursued Guyana stands to benefit from political cooperation. Cooperation recognises and accepts that whereas historical voting patterns have been along racial lines, the constitutional right to freely associate also protects the right not to be discriminated against based on race (Articles 147 and 149).

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Forging ‘One People, One Nation, One Destiny,’ requires frank, honest and open conversations on race/ethnicity that allows for creating and enforcing systems to make meaningful the nation’s aspiration. Legislation is needed to give meaning to Article 13.  The Rights Commission must be established at all times, particularly the Human Rights Commission which is designed to safeguard and deepen the “Protection of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms of the Individual” as outlined in Title 1 of the Constitution.

Politicians must move to recognise the constitutional devolution of power (shared governance) to the grassroots through legislation that would give effect to Articles 75 and 76. These articles are intended to ensure the self-sufficiency of regional and local governments. Efforts must also be made to create a more inclusionary role in the national disbursement of revenue by amending the Appropriation Bill (National Budget). Passage of this Bill should be by no less than 60 percent of the elected Members in the National Assembly.

To ensure equity in employment opportunities in the public and private sectors, the awarding of government contracts, access to education and other socio-economic benefits/resources impacting the various demographics, GTUC proposed Affirmative Action through legislation. This must include the establishment of a Commission to shape, influence and oversight implementation.

Sustainable Development

Whereas in 2020 Guyana became an oil producing nation, the Government of Guyana has committed the country to Sustainable Development and is a signatory of the 2015 United Nations Paris Climate Change Agreement. Revenue from oil and gas must be used to create an economy that is all inclusive. Realisation of this would be consistent with the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) goal of combating the threats to livelihoods faced by COVID-19, Guyana’s commitment to Sustainable Development and a Green Economy.

Direct Oil Benefit/Cash Transfer

Direct oil benefit/cash transfer must be implemented through Social Programmes with the main objective to increase poor and vulnerable households’ real income. GTUC therefore proposed the lowering of income tax (PAYE) and tax rebate and restoring allowance for children; pay Unemployment Benefit; institute a daily school meal programme; improve medical services by establishing fully equip main referral hospitals in all ten regions with trauma centre, intensive care and diagnostic facilities; reduction in electricity, transportation and gas prices; utilise cash transfers to encourage citizens to engage in more clean energy, for example, solar and or wind energy, and other sustainable development programmes; interest-free or very low-interest rate soft loans to improve and maintain residences and immediate home environment.

GTUC also proposed oil and gas money be used to erase the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) deficit; immediately restore the constitutional right to free education (Article 27) from nursery to university and engage in capacity building at the University of Guyana, technical and vocational schools; revetment and covered concrete drainage (and irrigation) which will serve to regain much-needed land space, and which could be utilised for greater parking and safer road use.

Revitalisation of Cooperatives

GTUC urges the revitalisation of the cooperative sector. Guyana is a trisector economy. i.e., private, public and cooperative. The cooperative sector, for centuries, has been the economic mainstay of the poor and working class, particularly Afro-Guyanese. The sector needs government support not to dismantle or seek reason to take away the ordinary man’s investment but to restore the cooperative meaningful role in the economy. Re-energising this sector could contribute immensely in putting to work significant resources that are under control of the members, thereby creating opportunities for empowerment/upliftment.

Conclusion

It is the GTUC’s conviction, borne out of years of involvement in society, that the polarisation of Guyana’s politics facilitates the transgression of rights and violating of laws in the management of the economy. These wrongs are contributing to increasing ethnic tensions, divisions and hostilities. GTUC’s recommendations therefore seek to proactively and constructively right these wrongs.



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