‘Workers will not be left behind’

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Pres Ali assures as Norton gov’t to engage in collective bargaining

By Svetlana Marshall

President Irfaan Ali has assured that workers in Guyana will not be left behind as the country’s economic and infrastructure landscape transforms but the Opposition Leader, Aubrey Norton said as a first step, the Government must put its pride aside an engage in collective bargaining with the country’s trade unions.

The Head of State, in his Labour Day address, said notwithstanding the daunting challenges which lie ahead as a result of the global economic disruptions, the country’s economy is set on a transformative and upward trajectory of development. This pathway, he said, is aimed at ensuring a higher standard of living for the present and future generations.

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“I give my word that as the country enters this transformative stage of development, workers will not be left behind. Workers will share equitably in the benefits which will flow from our economy in the years ahead,” President Ali told the nation.

Since 2020, workers, globally, have borne the brunt of global economic disruptions linked, in part, to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has inflicted death, pain and misery on the working class. But even as the pandemic subsides, the world has been faced with the domino effect caused by the war in Ukraine.

President Ali said his Government is not unmindful of the hardships which face workers as a result of these externalities.

“This is why we have been adopting measures to increase workers’ take-home income, cushion the effects of price increases, provide relief to households, make housing loans and construction more affordable for low-income earners and remove the onerous taxation burdens previously imposed on citizens,” he said.

The Head of State said as the country developments, there will be a holistic and broad-based approach towards the development of workers.

“We are firmly rooted to the working class. We want the national workforce to enjoy increased and better opportunities. We are courting increased investment so as to create more jobs,” he said.

President Ali added: “The new economy that is being fashioned will help us to deliver these and other benefits to workers. The new economy will spawn greater opportunities for employment and improved incomes and generate new and more enterprising career paths.”

Focus, currently, is being placed on advancing the country’s education system to better position the people of Guyana to access ‘well-paying jobs,’ the President said.

Further, he noted that the new economy will provide the resources for improving social services and human development.

“Every working-class family will be afforded the opportunity to own their own home and have access to potable water, electricity, and sanitation services. We will work assiduously to ensure the best possible healthcare. We are also committed to providing for our retirees and elderly so that, after their working days are over, they can enjoy a dignified existence,” he assured.

DIVISION AMONG TRADE UNIONS
Workers in Guyana are protected by the country’s Constitution and progressive Labour Laws, and according to the President, those are buttressed by the Government’s record of increasing workers’ disposable income, providing wage and non-wage benefits and enhancing working-class livelihoods.

However, while acknowledging the workers’ contributions to the development of Guyana, President Ali called on the trade unions to unite as he warned against division.

“Workers’ unity, unfortunately, is being imperilled by the ongoing divisions in our trade union movement. Discord within and between unions will only add to the disunity. The fissures within the trade union movement can only be mended by addressing their root causes,” the President said.

President Ali said he looks forward to working with the trade union movement in a spirit of respect rather than rancour, hope rather than hostility and cooperation instead of confrontation.

COLLECTIVE BARGAINING
But the Leader of the Opposition, Aubrey Norton said as a first step, the Government must engage in collective bargaining in accordance with the country’s Labour Laws.

“This PPP Government must put its pride and begin the process of reaching out to the leaders to begin the process of Collective Bargaining. They must be cognisant that workers’ rights are human rights and that each worker must be treated equally.

Our women and men who serve in every sector must be respected and given his/her fair share of the pie. Any government worth its salt would quickly seek to engage its labour leaders and put into action the labour conventions that have been signed on to and display some civic responsibility,” the Opposition Leader said in his Labour Day address.

Norton, who also serves as the Leader of the People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR), said from factory to factory, field to field, office to office, workers continue to toil for the advancement of the country and its economy.

He noted that without labour there can be no prosperity or growth.

“That’s why today we celebrate with pride the sacrifices and contributions made by our working class way back to the time of Hubert Nathaniel Critchlow, the Father of Trade Unionism, who fought relentlessly, paving the way for the many benefits that are being enjoyed today,” he said.

Like President Ali, the Opposition Leader addressed the negative toll the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the economy and workers across the globe. He said nothing withstanding the challenges posed by the pandemic, workers persevered; however, there efforts were trampled upon by the Government.

“…in your simple way you continued to display dedication, commitment and unwavered support while not even being given a moderate recognition. Rather, you were locked out of your places of work, had salary cuts, were threatened with dismissal and left to ponder a path for survival,” he pointed out.

Drawing a comparison, the Opposition Leader reminded that under the A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) Administration the safety and wellbeing of the working class was guaranteed.

INVALUABLE CONTRIBUTIONS
Meanwhile, the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C), in its Labour Day message, said Guyanese workers are the country’s most valuable asset.

“The contributions of our workers to the advancement of Guyana and our collective, progressive future are invaluable and have been the bedrock of the struggles for betterment for all,” the ruling party said.

It said the PPP/C-led Government will ensure workers remain its foremost priority and in doing so, will work to ensure their lives and conditions of work continue to be improved.

“While our party is aware that there is more to be done, it continues to take multifaceted approaches to ensure the advancement of our workers’ welfare,” it said.

According to the PPP/C, since taking Office in August 2020, it has adopted a people-centered approach, and has since taken steps to remove burdensome taxes and fees, restore the education cash grant, provide other cash grants and create much needed jobs.

“Already, our people have benefited from thousands of online scholarships, training opportunities, and the implementation of various programmes and policies to improve the social and physical infrastructure of our nation. These are just part of the PPP/C government’s thrust to better the lives of all of our workers,” the party said.



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