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|Veteran trade unionist, Mr. Lincoln Lewis, came out swinging against what he calls a “preoccupation” by President Irfaan Ali, his supporters, and detractors’ obsession with not receiving a handshake from Mr. Aubrey Norton, Leader of the Opposition. The President and Opposition Leader have been trading words over a handshake, who should or should not be shaking hands, and the reason (s) not to or for doing so.
Guyanese have been weighing in on the matter. But to Lewis, General Secretary of the Guyana Trades Union Congress, the handshake is a non-issue and smokescreen to detract from the germane issues in Guyana.
“Those who ignore the plight of the poor, marginalised and dispossessed to focus on handshake must not fail to recognise whereas it is nice to be courteous, and the world would be a better place with courteous people, it must be recognised that good governance, human survival and rights take precedence over courtesy in any part of the world.”
Lashing out at the government for its “selfish and discriminatory conduct” Lewis said, “serious business of governance, life, health and upholding the rights of others to participate in and benefit from the nation’s patrimony or matters of good governance as prescribed by law and universally acceptable principles,” are being placed on the lower rungs of priority.
Calling on society not to be distracted by a “made up war over a handshake,” Lewis said the contempt for the political system that mandates inclusionary democracy, as outlined in Article 13 in the Constitution of Guyana, does not require a handshake between the two premier politicians. “This is fundamental to governance and the Jagdeo/Ali regime must not escape accountability, hiding behind the smokescreen of a handshake.”
Drawing attention to the plight of poor, vulnerable and working class, the trade unionist pointed out that “sections of this society are hurting and for some who are managing to receive the crumbs from the table, they do so either by putting their dignity under their feet or having it trampled under the feet of others in the name of survival or in the hope that things would one day get better.”
Society would be bettered served challenging corruption and abuse of the people’s resources; with wanting good governance, equality, equity, justice, a living wage and better conditions of work; an end to human rights violations and police excesses, marginalisation, discrimination, rising cost of living and diminishing wages, he said.
In the first calendar year (2021) of President Ali’s government, Guyana has dropped two points in the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index, which indicates corruption is rising.
According to Lewis, those wanting a handshake are encouraged to add their voices for the respect of public servants who keep the wheels of government turning for an uncaring and corrupt regime that treats them worse than stray animals. The two-year-old Ali government is yet to engage trade unions in the public service to negotiate improved wages, salaries and other working conditions.
The trade unionist also drew attention to the plight of bauxite workers employed at Bauxite Company Guyana Inc (BCGI) and accused the government, who is part owner of the company, for denying the workers justice. The BCGI records the longest unsettled industrial dispute in Guyana.
He pointed out under Article 147 of the Constitution of Guyana and Section 23(1) of the Trade Union Recognition Act the employer is duty bound to treat with the unions in addressing the workers’ welfare. “This is a right the Jagdeo/Ali regime only respects for some when the law protects all.”