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… as Guyana observes Labour Day
President of the Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU), Patrick Yarde did not mince words when he addressed head-on the discriminatory firing of workers and the continuous violation of the country’s Labour Laws, not just by the Irfaan Ali Administration but successive Governments.
In his Labour Day address, the GPSU President said successive Governments have destroyed possibilities of Guyana’s development through selfish political agendas that have done nothing to satisfy the motto “One People, One Nation, One Destiny.”
He said though the Constitution guarantees all citizens, freedom of association, as well as, trade union rights, those constitutional entitlements have been trampled upon by Governments, who have clearly exhibited double standards in the execution of their mandate.
“Very often workers are treated with disdain based on their perceived political affiliation or ethnicity. Similarly, organisations are likewise treated based on politicians’ opinions or perceptions of political allegiances and are often subjected to various acts of discrimination and victimization, including unlawful abuses, acts of executive lawlessness and unlawful political conduct that are clearly and frequently displayed through the abuse of both workers and citizens alike,” Yarde explained.
Noting that discrimination and victimization have taken many forms, the Trade Unionist pointed to the non-renewal of employment contracts of senior ranking persons, who were inappropriately labeled as operatives of opposing political parties, and replaced by party supporters and opportunists.
Reference was also made to the “politically orchestrated supersessions;” the denial of the right to work, including the denial of full property.
“These violations of workers’ rights also occurred through the use of illegal COVID-19 orders, where workers without COVID-19 vaccinations were locked out of workplaces and deemed absent from duty without leave. Some had their employment terminated, while some suffered salary cuts, in violation of their constitutional rights,” Yarde further explained.
It was noted that workers continue to receive “poverty” wages, salaries and allowances – “a policy seemingly designed or intended to keep workers weak, while selectively paying higher wages, salaries and allowances to a chosen few.”
Successive Governments, he said, have violated the Constitution, Labour Laws, ILO Conventions, and legally binding Collective Labour Agreements (CLA). He said failure to reconstitute several Constitutional bodies, including the Public Service Commission (PSC) cannot be ignored.
“[The] ill-treatment and disrespect for women folk from the heights of the Judiciary and Legislature to ordinary citizens; the atrocious and risky work environments, especially in the health sector; the manifestation of total disregard for Trade Unions and the rights of workers by consecutive appointments of incompetent Ministers of Labour, in the forms of Keith Scott and Joseph Hamilton,” were among the other infractions listed.
Yarde said both Scott and Hamilton have shown scant regard for workers’ rights. He said the situation has been further compounded by the utterances of Minister Hamilton’s that Trade Unions are irrelevant.
The GPSU President assured that the discriminatory acts and abuses, including acts of executive lawlessness and illegal political conduct will be challenged by the Union, not only because they are impediments to racial harmony, but because there is need for good governance.
The Irfaan Ali Administration has accused some Trade Unions of being partisan but Yarde made it clear that the GPSU is an apolitical Organisation that respects its members’ constitutional rights and freedoms to participate in any organisation of their choice.
He noted, however, that since the return of the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) to Office in 2020, there have been glaring attempts to politicize public services for its own narrow political aspirations.
“…It has been facilitating political involvement in the Public Service through the implantation of political operatives under specialized contracts within the Public Service and in instances appointments are made against established Public Service positions. This has proven detrimental to effectiveness of public services, national unity, and has had debilitating effects on national development,” Yarde said.
It was pointed out that on November 18, 2021 the PPP/C Government imposed a meagre 7% increase in wages and salaries on Public Servants, despite promising a 50% increase in wages and salaries during its 2020 Elections campaign.
According to Yarde, many Guyanese including the Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly, Lenox Shuman were horrified at meager increase and what now appears as to be a blatant misrepresentation at the political level.
In defence of the 7% increase, the Minister of Public Service Sonia Parag told the nation that at no time did the PPP/C committed to a 50% increase in wages and salaries for Public Servants. According to her, that percentage was “photoshopped” onto one of the PPP/C posters during the elections period – an explanation that has been rubbished by the unions.
Yarde said at the time of the 7% increase, the Government was well aware of the ever-increasing costs of living and the related suffering endured during the two-year long pandemic.
“Of course, for its failure to utilize the collective bargaining process, over the one and one-half years in office, the Government proffered another barefaced act of misrepresentation to the peoples of Guyana by claiming that time did not permit them to do so, as though Government had the discretion to determine to, or not to, observe the rule of law,” Yarde said.
He added: “In fact, Government’s scant regard for the rule of law saw them pandering to their political constituents and squandering public resources on political gimmicks, that made no impact on the pain and suffering of the masses, which of course included the Public Servants that suffered throughout the years 2020 and 2021 without any meaningful cushion to the severe economic impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic and skyrocketing costs”
The GPSU President said there were no measures to bolster the drought in the increases of salaries for Public Servants, except for a meagre one-off payment of $25,000 that was paid in the latter part of 2020 and then the paltry 7% that was foisted on them around Christmas 2021.
He iterated that the imposition of the 7% increase on Public Servants was in clear violation of the Constitution, the Labour Laws, the ILO conventions and the Collective Bargaining Agreement.
“Government also frustrated all efforts to sit lawfully, professionally and decently with the GPSU to deal with matters relating to increases in wages and salaries. While frustrating the Union’s attempts to jumpstart the Collective Bargaining process, Government was simultaneously attempting to undermine the Union by compromising workers’ rights and making them vulnerable. The true character of the regime’s disregard for democracy, the Constitution and Laws of Guyana became more pellucid, even with false claims of having working class credentials,” he said.
He pointed out that while Public Servants were offered 7%, the Government doled out $1.875B to 7,500 severed sugar workers, who had already received severance benefits from the APNU+AFC Administration.
He noted too that the Government also backpedaled on its commitment during the 2020 Elections Campaign to renegotiate the oil and gas contract with ExxonMobil.
“… to date this matter has been ignored to the extent that aspects, such as: (a) the low royalty rate of two percent (2%); and (b) payment of taxes on behalf of the Company, appear sacrosanct,” Yarde posited.
Lincoln Lewis, the General Secretary of the Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC) also hauled the Government over the coals for a number of infractions.
Lewis, in his Labour Day message, said workers must never forget that the Government chose politics over life during the deadly COVID-19 pandemic.
“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,” Lewis said.
The Trade Unionist said though confronted with major injustices, workers continue to give of their labour which, unfortunately, 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,” he added.
Like Yarde, Lewis said many Guyanese professionals such as former Minister of Finance, Winston Jordan; Colvin Heath-London, Trevor Benn, Keith Lowenfield and Paul Slowe, a former Assistant Commissioner of Police and Chairman of the Police Service Commission, have been politically targeted and placed before the courts.
“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,” he posited.
He too reminded that all Guyanese regardless of race, colour or creed are entitled to equal opportunities.
“… 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),” Lewis said.