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Guyana Public Service Union
Oh, how time has flown! It’s the beginning of the year 2023, almost three decades since a PPP/C Government agreed that there was a need for “… negotiation of a comprehensive wages policy to solve the problems of the employed poor in the Public Service …”. This occurred on September 14, 1993, but now January 1, 2023, Public servants are still to realize the dream of receiving a living wage, because of the persistent failure by Government to negotiate with their representative a comprehensive wages policy that would better the lot of Public Servants. In fact, it is pellucid that the PPP/C leadership acted dishonorably and in bad faith after inking the intention to work towards the alleviation of poverty in the Public Service.
The Government’s failure to honour its age-old commitments would have had dire effects and condemned countless Public Servants to even more misery following their retirements during that thirty-year hiatus, over which any significant inputs or reliefs garnered through the militancy of the Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU) would have been lost. The last major input involving action by the Union, being realized through the Armstrong Arbitration Tribunal Award of 31.06% for the year 1999 and 26.66% for the year 2000. While Government in its political tirades seek to claim the accolades for these substantial awards, it neglects to tell the citizenry that to date it is yet to fully honour the Armstrong Tribunal Awards for allowances, increments, de-bunching of employees and the establishment of technical, professional and managerial pay scales.
As far as Public Servants are concerned, the Government has displayed much disregard over the years. Its persistent refusal to engage the GPSU on matters concerning wages, salaries, allowances, other conditions of services and work environments enhancement and modernization since the year 1999 and the constant imposition of miniscule increases have further deteriorated the financial capabilities of workers and plunge them further into abject poverty. The hard-earned gains, prior to the year 2000, are now hopelessly eroded by sky-rocketing prices and inflationary trends, because of Government’s lawless attitude through disregard and disrespect for the Constitution and other Laws of Guyana, International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention 87 concerning Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize, the Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining Convention 98 and the Labour Relations (Public Service) Convention 151 that were all ratified by the Parliament of Guyana and are in force, together with the legally binding Agreement for the Avoidance of Settlement of Disputes, between the Government of Guyana and the GPSU that is embodied in the 1987 Public Service Rules. Even if Government was to address wages and salaries at the level of inflation, these would still be unrealistic and grossly inadequate, because the wages and salaries of Public Servants were persistently below the poverty line.
To add to the dilemma of Public Servants, their very existence in the work places is being threatened by Government’s failure, since August 9, 2021, to appoint the Public Service Commission, the Public Service’s governing and regulatory body, including the injection of political operatives through contract employment into Public Service entities and political interference into the work of the Public Service and political intimidation of Public Servants contrary to Article 38G of the Constitution of Guyana. It is common knowledge that Government’s responsibility is to espouse policy, but not to get involved into the day-to-day operations of Public Service Entities, as is currently done.
GPSU, the workers chosen representative, has also suffered Union bashing in many forms from Government, since the post 1999 refusal of collective bargaining. There has been the suspension of the check-offs, deregistering of the membership, scuttling of the Agency Fees Agreement and denial of continued representation on Boards and Commissions, among other things. The Guyana situation is notable and seems to be goaded by certain special interest groups, which benefit from the autocratic nature of Government.
Most recently, that is on May 16, 2022, the GPSU wrote to the President of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana, making a number of recommendations to alleviate the hardships suffered by Health Sector Personnel, Countrywide. Seven (7) months after, without any acknowledgement of the Union’s letter and/or response to the matters therein, the President announced a menu of measures for salaries in relation to some workers in the health sector. The actions taken would obviously alleviate some financial woes of a few Health Sector Personnel, but failed to address the high costs of living, the heavy and continuous exodus of medical personnel from Guyana, improved remuneration generally for other Health Sector Personnel Health Sector Personnel, hours of work, education and training, succession planning, work environments and upgrading and re-establishment of quarters and hostels in Regions and Sub-Regions and duty free concessions for the purchase of motor vehicles to enable a senior category of nurses to be more reliable and efficient in the discharge of their functions. These important omissions by Government have occurred because of its stubbornness to engage the GPSU in collective bargaining, as required by the Constitution and other Laws of Guyana.
The failure to engage with the GPSU, on the issue of medical staffers, has also disrupted relativities that were scientifically considered and established with full merit. One such glaring case is the disruption of the relationship between the individual position of “Staff Nurse” and that of “Midwife”, by the intended payment of same remuneration for these posts. The Staff Nurse is a Registered Nurse, the position of which requires academic qualifications of six (6) GCE/CXC subjects, together with three (3) years Classroom Training. On the other hand, a midwife’s qualification requirement is three (3) subjects GCE/CXC, together with eighteen (18) months Classroom Training.
The breaches of Government, including its interventions in the work of the Public Service and attempts to destabilize the GPSU were brought to the attention of the International Labour Organization (ILO) on October 24, 2000. The reoccurrence of these very abuses has resulted in preparatory action to file another complaint on recent developments. The Government’s overall negative posture towards the GPSU and employees benefits has significantly contributed to an absence of trust in the Employer/Union relationship.
The GPSU remains unwavering in its challenges to the Government of Guyana on the issue of the negotiation of living wages, salaries, realistic allowances and conducive working conditions towards bettering the lot of workers in the Public Sector. These workers deserve to have the ability to sustain themselves and families, instead of living in poverty like leaches and mendicants, drawing lifeblood from some sympathetic friends or family members that have migrated because there appears to be no hope for them at home.
Of interest is the fact that the PPP/C, when in opposition, castigated the then ruling APNU/AFC Government for awarding itself a 50% pay increase, while not extending this obvious requirement to workers in the State. The population supported the action of the PPP/C by decrying the APNU/AFC move as insensitive. However, after acceding to office in August 2020, the PPP/C showed no rancor at accepting the salaries set by the previous administration, but openly accepted those terms and conditions for themselves and shamelessly paid no increases to the workers during that year. This partisan nature of these self-serving officials, who were elected to protect the best interest of the people in an even-handed manner, allows them to watch the people destroy each other for survival in this land of plenty, while elevating some above others, thereby creating divisions and simultaneously preaching unity. Such is the political mentality that they prefer to provide the nation with infrastructure, political intrigue and promises, but not enough to drag the struggling workers back from the depths of poverty to an enjoyable livelihood.
Every worker could enjoy the good life in Guyana, if political leaders genuinely care about all workers, not just a chosen few. They must also recognize the importance of investing firstly in the Country’s human capital, rather than the reckless political squander mania that appears to be the order of the day.
In the GPSU Christmas message for 2022, it was pointed out that from the hive of economic activity in Guyana since 2020, Public Servants were given crumbs. Groups, such as the terminated sugar workers, fisher folk and others were singled out for significant cash grants in the vicinity of $250,000 and $150,000, while the military were identified for annual bonuses. Public servants on the other hand over that period were awarded with a one-off cash grant of $25,000 for their dedicated service, while faithfully collecting and accounting for the revenues of the state. Military workers also received one-off cash grants of $25,000 and the miniscule impositions paid to Public Servants. It is therefore pellucid that Government is not prepared to be even handed when dealing with its workers.
As such, the GPSU calls on its membership, other Public Sector workers and workers in the Private Sector to militate against hand-outs or impositions of increases in salaries, wages and allowances, including the current status quo where starvation wages and salaries are being justified by Government and profit hungry employers, but much to the detriment of workers. Workers must take the position that employers should follow the Constitution and rule of Law and engage in collective bargaining, as a means to determining fair salaries, wages, allowances and other conditions of employment. In so doing, workers should not be intimidated, but must recognize that Government has been elected for the People by the People and therefore cannot be a law unto itself.
To continue to allow yourself to suffer such acts of oppression from a Government that was elected to serve you, is an act of self-destruction. The Government’s breaches of the Constitution and Laws of Guyana, including its Oaths of Office are mere indicators of increasing authoritarian rule, which all citizens must be concerned about. To be captivated by the President’s dance portrayals and words of unity is to let your guard down, hopelessly. As the writer Kahlil Gibran wrote, “We are all like the bright moon, we still have our darker side” and “Pity the nation divided into fragments, each fragment deeming itself a nation.” Let us therefore unify ourselves around these illegitimate breaches of Governments and rebuke Government for all acts that are not in compliance with our Constitution and Laws. Let us not sit in docility, while allowing our elected representatives to grow bolder in wrong-doing, until the destruction of our lives, our freedoms and our native land.
Long Live the Union of Members of the GPSU, Long Live the Membership of GPSU. Together, let’s seek the improvement of the lives of the Country’s workforce. To impact and overcome the challenges ahead, there must be a common understanding of the problems faced and a unity of purpose to demand that these breaches are corrected. Guyana will never achieve development if the people subscribe to bad governance, because of fear to demand proper stewardship. Governments must be made accountable to the people for all acts. There is nothing like Presidential or political immunity. All acts committed knowingly has consequences under the law. This means that if a Government conspires to breach the law, the people must ensure that it is chastised by the Law.
As we transition from the year 2022 to 2023, members must be conscious of the intention to separate or destroy the closely guarded unity that has molded the Union for almost a century, while the public at large must unite against bad governance and those occurrences that threaten our fledgling democracy.
I would now take this opportunity to wish you and your loved ones a happy, enjoyable, safe and productive new year 2023, with the hope that 2023 fulfills your desires and that of your families. An opportunity is also taken to thank all of you for the understanding, courage and strength that has been displayed over the years.
God’s richest blessings for a happy, prosperous and peace filled New Year 2023 are also wished for us all.
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