Gov’t open to engagement on workers’ issues

-Luncheon tells GPSU confab

Chief government spokesman Dr Roger Luncheon yesterday opened the Guyana Public Service Union’s (GPSU) 18th Biennial Conference, saying the administration would seek a comprehensive solution to challenges facing workers.

Roger Luncheon
Roger Luncheon

Luncheon, tasked with opening the Conference by President Bharrat Jadgeo who was unable to attend, made it clear that government would not engage in any activity that does not promote a “win-win situation”. He was responding to an overture by GPSU President Patrick Yarde, who said he hoped that government’s support for the conference marked the beginning of an era of general practical cooperation and collaboration, in which no one side loses sight of the need for improvement in the conditions of public servants and for the sustained development of a vibrant economy without which “our demands” cannot be met.

Luncheon said government would be receptive to a constructive engagement that identified procedures for the two sides to collaboratively deal with the problems confronting workers, in the context of national development.

Government is helping the GPSU to host the conference and last evening Jagdeo hosted a reception for the delegates at State House. Although he was disappointed that President Jagdeo was not present at the official opening of the conference, Yarde said he was appreciative of the reception, and that it was being interpreted as acknowledgement of the invaluable contribution and support which public servants give to the government each day.

He said the GPSU has remained faithful to the fundamental principles of contributing to the promotion and safeguarding the interest of its members and the public, despite evolving challenges.

Patrick Yarde
Patrick Yarde

On the latter point, he said that contrary to the national motto, ‘One People, One Nation, One Destiny,’ Guyana remains divided and fractured along social, economic and political lines, which has had a negative impact on its progress. It is in this context, he said, that it has become more difficult for the GPSU to justify and operationalise its own motto, ‘Justice for the Public Employee’.
Intractable problems
Yarde added that not only are the members of the union forced into heroic attempts to keep body and soul together, but they have to be wary of nefarious attempts to deprive them of benefits and privileges that were won at great cost and at great personal sacrifice. He explained that the GPSU still experiences intractable problems and challenges, among which are the failure to convince the employer to honour obligations it has freely entered into and act in accordance with their terms.

Additionally, securing the adherence to and respect for hard won agreements, obtaining respect for the rules of natural justice and fair treatment for workers, overcoming obstruction to cohesive bargaining agreements and securing workers access to trade union representation, were all identified as tasks that remain for the union.

Yarde also pointed out that the union is urgently seeking the appointment of the Ombudsman and the Public Service Appellate Tribunal as well as recognition of the need to increase the compulsory age of retirement for some public employees. The union is also working to harmonise relationships between the employer and the employee, and generally among the workforce.

Yarde said unfair treatment was still being meted out to public sector workers and he pointed to the manner in which members of staff of the Guyana Revenue Authority are treated. According to him, serious allegations of irregularities have been levelled against these workers even in the face of their performance. He said that over the last five years the performance of these workers has exceeded the government’s revenue collection targets by over $30 billion, yet no recognition of this has been acknowledged. He also pointed to the non–appointment of Genevieve Whyte-Nedd in the substantive position of Chief Education Officer, saying it was difficult on grounds of legality as well as on morality to justify the treatment that has been meted out to “this fully qualified, highly regarded and respected functionary”. This he called an indictment on the Public Service Commission and he issued a call for the situation to be corrected.
A ‘win-win’ situation
Luncheon commended Yarde for a presentation that set the groundwork for great and sustained improvement in the relationship between government and the union. Other than offering perspective as to how the issues affecting workers could be dealt with, he said he felt Yarde’s presentation, which committed the union to pursue practical cooperation and collaboration with government, was one shared by the administration.

However, he pointed out that the conference was not taking place in the most tranquil of times, pointing out that the challenges and imposing imperatives of today are not weighing only on organised labour but also governments, political parties and the private sector. “It’s not only organised labour… not only Guyana, it’s a worldwide phenomenon… whether it’s the global financial crisis or climate change, the fact remains we cannot pander to our own dogmas, we have emergent challenges [and] we have to literally bob and weave and go the extra mile to be innovative and work together to find acceptable solutions,” he said.

He further observed that government has embraced the role of the private sector in fuelling development and has encouraged and provided it with opportunities to discharge that role in a timely and comprehensive way and according to plans and projection. He added that government is convinced that in discharging that role, the betterment that accrues to the economy will not trickle down but will be factored into the development of the country.

“Whether at the level of taxation policy, threshold, whatever is needed to ensure that the benefits that are enjoyed by the private sector in development of Guyana are the benefits that are shared with the working class,” he said.

Luncheon further stated that a commitment to work together and be constructive in working together was one which government had sought and that every effort would be made to make such an engagement give rise to the promise it suggests. “We would be receptive to a constructive engagement that identifies procedures for us collaboratively to deal with the problems confronting workers… its resolutions in the context of national development… it must be a  win-win situation. It cannot proceed with losers who are identified from day one,” he declared.

The conference concludes on Saturday.

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