Minister of Labour Dr Nanda Gopaul yesterday stated that the 5% pay increase sanctioned by the government was not in response to the demands of the Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU), but an independent initiative by government to ensure that public servants were financially capable of enjoying the Christmas season.
This response was given during a press brief held by the ministry to highlight its achievements, challenges, and setbacks for 2012, as well as aspirations for 2013.
The GPSU recently rejected the government’s imposition of the 5% across-the-board pay hike for public servants and threatened “serious consequences” for labour relations unless there is a return to the bargaining table. At the time of the announcement of the increase, retroactive to January 1, 2012, the government and the union were still negotiating a new multi-year wage agreement.
But Gopaul yesterday said the increase was a show of goodwill on the part of the Ministry of Public Service, and by no means indicates that negotiations between the ministry and the GPSU have been authoritatively brought to an end. He stated that as far as he knows, negotiations between the two parties are ongoing and he was confident that a mutually satisfactory outcome will be achieved.
As it relates to the ministry’s accomplishments, Gopaul said it had been involved in myriad activities. He said that through a tripartite agreement, Guyana has become the ninth country in the Caribbean to sign on to the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) Decent Work Country Programme (DWCP), aimed at creating decent work and sustainable enterprises.
The signatories to the document were Gopaul, Samuel Goolsarran, Executive Director of the Consultative Association of Guyanese Industries Limited (CAGI); Norris Witter, President of the Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC); Kenneth Joseph, General Secretary of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Guyana (FITUG); and Dr Giovanni de Cola, Officer-in-Charge, ILO Decent Work team and office for the Caribbean.
He also reflected on the Occupational Health and Safety Symposium held on April 28 in observance of Occupational Health and Safety Month, as well as the amendment made to the Essential Services Act, which made the provision of the Berbice and Demerara Harbour Bridge schedules an essential service.
In addition, the minimum wage levels, after a four-year lapse, were revised, which resulted in increases in several industries.
The minister said there was an increase in both internal and external training supported by international experts. He also said weekly in-house training for officers of the ministry took place, at which local and international facilitators delivered lectures on various topics of interest. A Prosecution Course was conducted by the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, which was attended by labour inspectors as well as inspectors from the National Insurance Scheme and probation officers.
Roseanne Richards, ILO consultant, assisted and guided officers in report writing for one week on the ILO conventions while Pierre Francois Recoing, ILO Specialist, conducted two two-day workshops on ILO Reporting Obligations. Anthony Rocheford, ILO Consultant in Occupational Safety & Health conducted a five-day training workshop on safety in the Forestry and Fisheries sectors during the period November 5 to 9.
Other accomplishments included a training workshop conducted for Brazilian Business owners, where handouts and brochures about the labour laws and other issues were translated to Portuguese; the recovery of $25,688,445 on behalf of employees for the current year; and the completion of 1,311 inspections.
In the case of the translated document, the minister said this initiative was undertaken owing to an increase in complaints about the violation of Guyana’s labour laws by Brazilian employers. He said on investigating these instances, he found that most if not all of the violations occurred because of ignorance of Guyana’s laws, most likely due to the language barrier.
The minister pointed out that though this year was quite successful, there were several issues which posed a challenge to the work of the ministry. Among these were staff shortages which worsened over the past five years. A total of 16 officers have left the ministry, the most recent five leaving this year. There were also cancellations of outreach programmes to outlying regions due to the late disbursement of funds as well as a significant increase in prosecutions filed against employers due to their unwillingness to observe labour laws.
The ministry was also engaged in the training of individuals who, for various reasons, would have dropped out of school. Gopaul said that for 2012 the ministry set out to train 100 youths for the standard apprenticeship programme; 400 persons under the Single Parent Training Programme (SPTP) and 1,500 youths under the National Training Project for Youth Empowerment (NTPYE). Thus far, 65 apprentices were certified as artisans, 386 trainees are currently pursuing training under the SPTP in Regions 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 10, and under the NTPYE a total of 1,161 youths were registered for training in two phases. In regions 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 977 successfully completed their training under phase 1. From the second phase, 184 trainees, who commenced training in October, are expected to complete their training during the first quarter of next year.
The minister said that some of the major challenges were posed by the Co-op and Friendly Societies, which were in many instances violating and abusing existing labour laws. This development resulted in the amendment of 24 rules governing these groups, which it is believed will ensure that they observe the labour laws. The minister made reference to instances where several members became engaged in the illegal selling of their land and shares, which resulted in several other members being disenfranchised. He said that in several of these cases, the ministry is currently working to bring redress to those who were wronged.
Looking towards the New Year, the minister said he is hoping to fill the vacancies that exist so as to increase the efficiency with which the ministry executes it responsibilities. He also shared plans to establish an office in Region 2, as well as to strengthen operations in regional offices already operational. There are also plans to introduce a national minimum wage to ensure that employers in both the public and private sectors do not pay below a specified level.