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As we continue to recognise May Day we must recognise that the gains of our ancestors must not only be revered, they must be built upon and protected. May Day or Labour Day is recognised as a symbol of workers’ continued struggle to lift their standard of living and better the conditions under which labour toils. In 2020 the COVID-19 pandemic created a new challenge for the safety and security of workers who were subjected to and dependent on the discretion and management of the work environment. The world over, millions have lost their lives.
In Guyana, more than 1200 left us as a result of the pandemic These are past, present and potential workers. Yours truly, including the trade union community, take this time to remember our departed and their families. COVID 19 brought out both the best and worst in us- those who were able to show empathy as against those who were only concerned about production and productivity and were willing to make sacrifices of human life. Life for some seemed expendable even as the fear of death hoovers around causing many to live in fear.
A specialised hospital facility was established to cater for in-patient management, giving the sense of security that the government was being proactive. Albeit perceived short, and in a context where lots of resources were commandeered and controlled by developed nations, a change of government saw the display of brutal politics which sought to exclude and deny, placing our population at risk by making a large section more vulnerable. Distrust and partisanship took hold.
Workers must never forget this, for in their greatest time of need the government chose politics over life. They chose to make political gains instead of seeking to save lives. There was discrimination down to the curfew where some businesses operated almost unrestricted whereas others couldn’t. The government mangled even the little cash grants they were giving out and instead of mobilising national support, organisations and groups that could reach the people, they kept it largely in the hands of their friends.
Workers continue to give of their labour which is being devalued daily as inflation rises. There is little or no relief offered to help them in structured, fair and non-discriminatory manner. Some are getting the hog of it all as others are given none; some have been asked to satisfy conditions in order to receive as others have no conditions set. Don’t be fooled by the figures they put out that inflation has not risen by much.
Ask the home makers. Ask the minibus and taxi drivers. Ask the shopkeeper. Ask the pensioners. Workers know much we can buy with our dollar now compared to what we were able to buy a year ago. This is not partisan politics; this is facing the reality of working-class economics. The working poor- which is what we have been relegated to- do not need an economist to tell them about inflation. They can see through the government’s deceit and phony figures. As workers continued to be faced by hardship this regime capitalises on our vulnerability to sow seeds of division and discord.
Look what they are doing to former Finance Minister Winston Jordan who has strong ties to this country. They placed him on $3 million bail and deemed a flight risk. Colvin Heath-London, a young professional, name was dragged through the mud. Trevor Benn, another professional, was made a political target because he served under another government. Paul Slowe, former Assistant Commissioner of Police and past Chairman of the Police Service Commission, being held by his pants. Look what they have done to GECOM workers, Keith Lowenfield, Mingo, and others were willfully humiliated. Even if wrong they were entitled to due process and to be treated with respect for that right.
That is not justice, it is political vindictiveness and efforts of this PPP government, headed by Irfaan Ali and Bharrat Jadgeo, to criminalise and place on the fringe of society a section of its people. The government is setting themselves up as a law unto themselves, not awaiting judicial process but trying people and convicting them in a court of public opinion. Citizens/workers be forewarned that life under this regime cannot get better if we the people do not know our rights, stand up and defend them.
The National Insurance Scheme (NIS)- your money and my money- is in financial trouble due the years of mismanagement. It is insufficient for Bharrat Jagdeo to merely state the Scheme’s inability to pay increases and of their intent to maintain pension. NIS is the workers only safety net and it must not be allowed to become insolvent through poor political policies. Jagdeo must also not be given opportunity to de-emphasise the impact of his party, and his particular mismanagement of the Scheme through bad investments of its Fund, as in the CLICO, Pegasus and Berbice Bridge deals and through policies implemented to pay benefits that bleed the Scheme of valuable contribution income derived from employer/employee contributions as well as that of the self-employed.
Pensioners are a very vulnerable segment of any population. Many are struggling in spite of NIS earnings as a result of spiraling cost of living, COVID 19 hardships and having no other source of income or support systems. The dignity and rights of the most vulnerable in society are under threat by conditions not created by them but by reckless governance. NIS must immediately address the state of affairs that threaten the livelihood of our senior citizens, workers of Guyana, and their dependent families. Whatever problems exist with the Scheme, which ought to be laid squarely at Jagdeo, President Irfaan Ali, and the PPP/C’s feet must be fixed, forthwith.
The state of Guyana today, whilst on the cusp of wealth, is a country in turmoil, held hostage by greed and avarice. The present PPP remains a disgrace to the early industrial legacy of Cheddie Jagan. The rights workers fought for and achieved are now under greater threat of being eroded. It is of grave concern, as foreign capital comes to our share, the willingness of the government and others to relinquish these rights for a mess of pottage and reversing this nation to early colonial days.
As we look around, oil wealth is making no difference. We hear and see figures, but the oil wealth is making no difference. Many of our people still continue to see migration as their best option and hope is gradually lost, and economic wealth acquisition and survival seems only for the fittest of all. And by fittest, I mean those who can turn a blind eye to the atrocity committed in our country by man against man. Those who can walk by and drive by and ignore the poverty on every street corner, those who ignore the homeless.
All Guyana’s people, red, black, brown and others, are entitled to equal and equitable access to opportunities, the protection of rights, the rule of law and good governance. But we must stand up and demand what’s justly ours. We must unite. Singularly we are not a force against the vicious onslaught and threats to our political, social and economic survivals. Together we are. In unison we must demand our seat at the table in the working and national environment, consistent with our rights to freedom of association, collective bargaining and inclusionary democracy (Articles 147, 149C, 13).