The Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU) yesterday issued a one-month ultimatum to government to abide by the existing wage agreements or it will take whatever action is necessary to secure the rights of public servants.
At a news briefing called to address the government’s recent announcement of a 5% salary increase for public servants, GPSU President Patrick Yarde revealed that it had written to Permanent Secretary in the Office of the President Dr. Nanda Gopaul yesterday outlining the union’s position. Copies of the letter were given to the media.
“We call upon the government to stop the imposition of unilateral annual wages and salary awards and to respect the collective bargaining process by negotiations on our proposals for increases in wages and salaries and allowances for 2010, 2011, and 2012.
“In this regard and in view of the fact that within our membership there are workers classified as being employed in essential services, the GPSU is giving one month’s notice that it would undertake any and all action regardless, to defend and secure the rights of its membership and workers in general to fair and equal treatment and respect for their lawful entitlements,” the letter stated.
Further it stated, the union had been hopeful of a positive outcome to discussions on the outstanding issues surrounding salaries and allowances given the government’s agreement to a meeting on December 7, however those hopes were dashed with the 5% across the board wage award prior to the meeting.
According to the letter, when that meeting was finally held the government cited the prevailing economic situation in the country for the unilateral increase—a reason the union rejected. “This explanation flies in the face of the recent IMF Article IV Mission’s assessment of performance of Guyana’s economy of a “fifth consecutive year of robust growth” and the government’s own contention of prudent management that will see record-breaking collection of revenue by the end of the year,” the letter stated.
The union contends that these statements suggest the availability of funds to make a “decent wage award” to public servants.
Meanwhile, Yarde noted that the 2010 imposition was not an isolated one with the government perpetuating the practice for the past 10 years. “This act flouts the Constitution of Guyana, the collective bargaining agreements between the government and the union which are legally binding and labour conventions, Yarde stated. According to him, it is a governance problem which translates to a “national problem, which in turn, requires a national response.”
He added: “The GPSU is calling on all the people of Guyana to come together and demand their rights; demand that institutions such as the Office of the Ombudsman and the Public Service Appellate Tribunal be established in keeping with the spirit of the Rule of Law; demand respect for trade union rights, which in our view are human rights. We make this special appeal that all law abiding citizens, including members of the People’s Progressive Party, as a New Year resolution, forthwith and resolutely, in concert and unity, pursue this action.”
Yarde also said that the GPSU was offended with the treatment meted out to public servants with “PS” instead of referring to “Public Service” now apparently referring to “Public Slaves.” He said they have received an official mandate to pursue whatever action is necessary, including strike action, since they have followed the set out principles before making yesterday’s public statement. Many people perceive the union as being soft, he said, while rejecting the position and arguing that the union was sturdy and capable of executing anything it says it will do. “Do not mistake the decency and the quietness of our members, they are prepared to stand up for their rights but they are not people who are hasty and impatient and irresponsible.
They recognise that when public servants take action, the entire nation is affected … so it’s not a simple and easy task to do that but public servants are also human beings and that is the reason why we are appealing to the people…,” he stated
Answering a question on the government’s likely response to the timing of the ultimatum, with elections due next year, Yarde said the administration will look for “any likely excuse” to avoid addressing the issue. “We’ve waited for 10 years. We’ve put up with this nonsense for 10 years and if that is not enough time, if that is not displaying responsible conduct and patience for someone to come to their senses and be fair and decent to the people that serve them, well then someone is a lunatic or deranged.
And that is the premise for what we’re doing; we’ve [borne] it for 10 years and we’re not prepared to bear it anymore,” Yarde declared.
In 1999, public servants went on a 57-day strike, which culminated with civil society members mediating to hammer out an agreement with the parties.
They were able to work out an agreement which included an interim 25% across the board increase while the subsequent Armstrong Arbitration Tribunal awarded public servants 31.09% and 26.6% for 1999 and 2000, respectively.
However, with the exception of the interim payment and the two awarded increases, the government has failed to honour the other aspects of the agreements, Yarde noted yesterday.
Copies of the letter to Dr. Gopaul were also sent to President Bharrat Jagdeo and Prime Minister Samuel Hinds; the labour and public service ministers; the International Labour Organi-sation; Public Services International; the Private Sector Commission; and the Guyana Trades Union Congress.