Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU) President Patrick Yarde says the union has had to defend its stance and keep hope alive in a “hostile environment” in which “the minimum wage being offered to public servants is not only unrealistic but a blatant disrespect and insult for their hard work.”
Yarde was addressing the opening ceremony of the 19th Biennial Delegates’ Conference of the GPSU last Wednesday at the National Cultural Centre.
The union leader said that the “hostile environment” is “characterized by vicious and unwarranted onslaughts on workers and their recognized bargaining unit, disregard for the rule of law and ILO Conventions and pactices and the absence of due process and gross abuse.”
Yarde said that while he had to condemn this dastardly behaviour in the most vehement terms, he wished to “applaud those members of the government who genuinely felt the need to build rapprochement with the union and to thank them for extending a hand of friendship and support, whenever possible.”
And bemoaning the continuing economic plight of public servants, Yarde noted that in putting the situation into stark relief, between 2006 and 2010 the minimum wage increased from $26,070 to $33,207, or 27.4 percent. He said that during that same period, the accumulated inflation was 32.4 percent, “so we have the ridiculous situation of an insufficient minimum wage being systematically eroded by inflation to such an extent that the worker is substantially worse off in 2010 than in 2006.
“… the harder the worker works, the less he or she earns in real terms, and the more he or she is forced to borrow or otherwise supplement his or her income (through remittances and/or doing a second and sometimes even a third job) to meet the daily minimum requirements for sustenance and survival,” Yarde contended.
He asserted that it is his union’s firm belief that “if the government really cared for their employees, they would be working with the recognized union, GPSU, to improve their welfare.”
“But we cannot but feel that the mission appears to be one of continuously undermining the union with a view of first dividing then weakening us. In so doing the government hopes to be in a position to freely and unobtrusively impose their will on the workers,” Yarde maintained.
He also observed that contrary to Guyana’s national motto, “One People, One Nation, One Destiny”, Guyanese as a people have remained divided and fractured along racial and political lines and moral values, adding that these have had adverse consequences for the development of the country.
Yarde said that while it has been repeated ad nauseam he had to reiterate that “Guyana will never be able to exploit its vast and undoubted potential if we remain a fractured society, burdened by guilt and scarred by allegations of racism, discrimination and marginalization; where our energies are dissipated in the constant, unproductive battle for control; and where the intense rivalry and competition for the scarce resources in a low-income economy leave the bulk of the population drained and debilitated.”
The GPSU president des-cribed the local landscape as being “overrun by corruption, greed, selfishness and injustice,” and noted that “these have now taken precedence over fundamental issues like justice, equity, kindness and respect.”
He said further that “basic manners have been replaced by boorish and uncouth behaviour displayed, especially by the ‘new rich’ whose vast and growing wealth (with its concomitant accretion of power and influence) emanates from underground and illegal activities that threaten to undermine the official economy.”
Yarde then cited a recent study by Professor Clive Thomas and others in which he said it was estimated that the underground economy could be as much as 61 percent of the national economy.
Yarde lamented that “crime, especially those that are gun-related, murder, rape and domestic abuse are rampant, growing like a carcinoma that threatens the very fabric of society.”
According to the GPSU head, “cherished values such as our well-known hospitality, caring for the sick, attention to children and the elderly, and concern for the environment have been lost in the rising sea of immorality, disrespect and disregard for our fellow human being.”
Yarde said that on reflecting on his last three addresses to this forum, he had come to the “harsh realization that many of the ills that afflicted the Public Service and the wider society six years ago remain today as testimony to the lack of progress.”
“This is a rather distressing, but a true, summation of the state of affairs that we must examine objectively,” he added.