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The People’s Progressive Party (PPP) has been ruling Guyana for almost three decades and has been promoting the country as an attractive destination for foreign investors. The PPP has been touting the country’s cheap natural resources, its four-hour proximity from Miami, its English-speaking population, and its absurdly low wages as the main selling points. However, these low wages come at a high cost for the public sector workers, who have been struggling to make ends meet and to access quality public services. The PPP also touts Guyana as a destination with low political risk and any industrial action with destroy the PPP’s credibility with foreign investors. No investor is interested in making a bet on a country that will explode in political turmoil. Normally Guyanese would shy away from such activities, but today, with oil revenues flowing to mostly friends of the PPP and corrupt ministers who have partnerships in several major government contracts, the working man is tired, abused, and determined to stop the corrupt PPP runaway train and this will scare investors. The government of Guyana is therefore concerned, very concerned.
The public sector workers, including teachers, and medical professionals, have been complaining about fair and reasonable multi-year agreements that would address their issues of salary, allowances, working conditions, and professional development. The Guyana Teachers Union (GTU) has been leading the charge, and has called for a nationwide strike from Monday, February 5, 2024, over the Government’s failure to respond to their proposal since 2020.
The Vice President of Guyana, Bharrat Jagdeo, has shown a blatant disregard for the plight of the public sector workers by urging them to ignore the call by their union to go on strike. The fact is, the Government of Guyana has failed to engage in meaningful negotiations with the union, and has instead imposed arbitrary salary increases and non-salary benefits that do not reflect the true value of workers’ work. The Government has also failed to implement a transparent and merit-based promotion system, a comprehensive worker evaluation system, and a quality assurance mechanism for worker education.
The Government’s stance is not only unfair and disrespectful to the public sector workers, but also risky and shortsighted for the country’s economy. By suppressing the wages and rights of the workers, the Government is creating a situation of low productivity, low morale, low quality, and low trust in the public sector. This will have negative consequences for the delivery of public services, the social cohesion, and the human development of the country.
Moreover, by relying on the low wages as the main attraction for foreign investors, the Government is exposing the country to the volatility and vulnerability of the global market. The foreign investors are not loyal to the country, but to their own profits. They will not hesitate to leave the country if they find a better deal elsewhere, or if they face any challenges or uncertainties in the country. The recent oil discovery in Guyana, which has been hailed as a game-changer for the country’s economy, could also turn out to be a curse if the Government does not manage it wisely and equitably.
The public sector workers are not asking for too much, but for what they deserve. They are not enemies of the country, but patriots who want to see the country prosper. They are not political pawns, but citizens who have the right to express their grievances and demands. The strike action by the GTU and other unions is not a threat to the country, but an opportunity for the Government to listen and negotiate with them in good faith.
The Government should stop dismissing and denigrating the public sector workers, and start respecting and rewarding them. The Government should stop relying on the low wages as the main lure for foreign investors, and start diversifying and developing the country’s economy. The Government should stop fearing and fighting the industrial action, and start embracing and engaging it. The Government should stop risking and ruining the country’s future, and start securing and safeguarding it.