Race politics at centre of public service pay, BCGI workers denial & economic opportunities

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Race is a major factor in this country to the extent where it negatively impacts the distribution of wealth and resources. Even in times of national crises, emergencies, grave human need and deprivation, race plays a pivotal role in rendering help and alleviating suffering. We have seen this with the cash grant to every citizen and in the flood reliefs. A different quality of government outreach is used to target African Guyanese and generally PPP/C non supporters if and when they are targeted for benefit.

The cash grant paid out to farmers after the flood saw African farmers being denied. Some were forced to engage in street protests to bring attention to the economic marginalisation, forcing the government to run into the area. Even when they offered those farmers assistance it was a paltry sum compared to what they gave their supporters. Look at the measly seven percent they promised to pay public servant workers and teachers, after denying them not only the right to collective bargaining, but also having withheld such engagement and increase in 2020.

I say without fear of contradiction, the refusal of the government to activate the Labour Law as it pertains to workers employed at the Bauxite Company Guyana Incorporated (BCGI) is as a result of race biases. Most of these workers are African Guyanese.

At March 2020, before the Election, the then 11-year industrial dispute was headed to arbitration. The government is deliberately refusing to hold BCGI foreign management accountable for the violation of our laws and transgressing the rights of bauxite workers because African labour and their communities in the main stand to benefit. There is nothing that prevents enforcing compulsory arbitration consistent with the law other than continuous effort to economically deprive those who stand to gain.

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It has also been found that the calculation of the terminal benefit for several BCGI workers is not consistent with the legal formula. And whilst constant representation by the union, the Guyana Bauxite & General Workers Union (GB&GWU), has been made to the Ministry of Labour to have this corrected the Ministry is refusing to act. Where the judicial system takes years to act on issues of this nature the Labour Department has the authority, under the law, to have the situation corrected with some degree of alacrity. In fact, issues of this nature can be corrected within a period of four to six weeks once the ministry has the will to act.

Society knows where workers are represented by the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU); the government will move immediately to seek to resolve any grievance that exists in the bargaining units. This regime is clearly sending a message to workers that the only union that matters is GAWU and no longer will workers enjoy the constitutional right to join a trade union of choice and have representation.

The case of Cyril Taxi, which is contracted to the oil and gas sector, is another matter deserving public attention. The GB&GWU won recognition to bargain for these workers, but the government terminated the Recognition Certificate which binds the two parties to enter into negotiation. When confronted to provide the evidence in the Law that authourised terminating the certificate they couldn’t. They operated on gut feelings because of who the union is and the workers that stand to benefit.

This regime has a plan to make the African community grovel for their economic sustenance. Whereas they are giving former sugar workers quarter million dollars cash grants, they are not giving similar treatment to former BCGI workers and the hundreds of public service workers they terminated since they came to office. And whereas they respect the right of GAWU to negotiate wages/salary and other conditions of service for the workers they represent, they show no respect for similar treatment for workers in the public and teaching sectors.

From all appearances the PPP/C leadership does not care how their actions are perceived or what they are doing to an ethnically fragile society. They have decided to have different standards of treatment for the working class, based on race and perceived political association, in spite the Constitution of Guyana (Article 149) explicitly does not allow for such behaviour.

This divisive economic practice is intended to have groups despising each other as those at the top ravish the nation’s resources. The regime is not oblivious that they are exacerbating ethnic tension and division. They know when we speak about their conduct those who are beneficiary of their discriminatory practice may very well be inclined to think that the deprived don’t want them to benefit. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Those speaking out are merely bringing attention to the wrong and demanding there be equity in the system and their rights under the law respected. It is important for the peace and harmony of this nation for the truth to be told don’t matter how ugly it is. For then and only then we could address our challenges head on.



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