GTUC urges national action on ‘critical’ NIS

-wants VAT, contract workers addressed

The Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC) says the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) is now at “a critical juncture” and deserves “national mobilisation and strident action” to resolve its problems.

The survival and success of NIS requires continued participation and militancy by every worker and citizen, the GTUC declared yesterday, in its New Year’s Message, which comes as the deadline approaches for the action on reforms proposed in the latest actuarial report on the scheme.

The report, done by consultants Horizonow, has warned that the NIS is near crisis stage and it recommended several steps for immediate implementation, including raising the contribution rate no later than this month; hiking the wage ceiling to $200,000 per month and a phased raising of the pension age from 60 to 65. Consultations on the report were conducted at the end of last year.

The NIS, the GTUC noted, was established in 1969 with the input and support of the umbrella body among other stakeholders. It said it was seen as an investment in the future of workers, serving as a social safety net for them and their dependants in times of illness, maternity, injury, retirement and death.

“The attempts by the political administration to treat flippantly with the reports highlighting the Scheme’s health must be rejected for it is no secret the NIS, though initially abhorred by the PPP when in opposition, on assuming office the PPP made this Scheme a cash cow to engage in acts they knew were tenuous and staff the NIS Board with persons who know not, nor care about the Scheme and its viability to the workers,” the GTUC contended.

Dr Roger Luncheon, who has headed the NIS Board since 1992, had denied that the NIS is in immediate financial trouble, while Finance Minister Dr Ashni Singh has assured that the government would “never let the NIS fail.”

Meanwhile, the GTUC noted that for 2010 to 2013, it and its affiliates have embraced the theme “Advancing Rights and the Rule of Law,” which focuses on creating awareness in the society for an understanding and respect for the instruments that guide governance, management and the protection of every worker.

“The time for excuses as to why things cannot be done must be no more. For where there is a will there will always be a way. Together with all progressive forces the right to self determination that allows for freedom of association must be fought for and protected. This right must no longer be respected for one group of workers; it must be respected for all unionised workers and those who seek unionisation,” it said.

On the campaign trail, the GTUC reminded, workers were given promises of addressing the “draconian” 16% Value-Added Tax (VAT). “…This promise must be brought to fruition in 2013,” it declared, adding that all leaders, are elected on promises the worker/citizen must see to it that strident efforts are being made to deliver on their behalf. “VAT continues to be a burden on every citizen, even more among the working poor and growing unemployed who are forced to make do with very little but still have to face the same increased in market prices,” it noted.

The GTUC also railed against contracted workers, which it said are imposed by both the government and private sector. “These workers are denied the opportunity to tenured employment and the security that comes with them rightly being categorised as engaging in contract of service,” it said.

However, it charged the government and private sector allies with flagrant violations of the workers’ right, while adding that contracted employment is being used to “break the backs of independent labour” even as it further compromises professionalism and quality of service.

Against this background, this year must see the collective determination of the workers investing more in themselves by ensuring that their votes and voices are heard and respected, the grouping said.

“Without the workers’ sweat nothing can be done. Nothing can be achieved. Recognising this pivotal role to organisation and nation building each worker must have a vested interest in ensuring that s/he is treated with respect and dignity,” it further said, while noting that this starts with ensuring the protection of their rights under the rule of law through the acquisition of knowledge. “Knowledge is power and this understanding each worker/citizen must carry as a personal responsibility, guard zealously, and be prepared to defend at all cost,” it added.

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