Are public servants victims of political spitefulness?

At the end of every year, with monotonous predictability, talks between the Government of Guyana and the Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU) on the matter of public service wage increases enter into a condition of deadlock.

After the post-talks vitriol on both sides the government simply says that a five per cent increase is what it has to offer. It does so knowing only too well that while the union will, in principle, reject the offer, the nation’s public servants are only too happy to accept even such a meagre offering, particularly at this time of the year.

It is an interesting and deeply disturbing scenario since, in effect, the nation’s impoverished public servants are caught between an employer that appears to care rather less than it ought to and a trade union which – to put it bluntly – has long been reduced to the status of a paper tiger on account of its lack of any real resources with which to ‘fight’ the government.

The last time that Guyanese public servants too any really robust industrial action was in 1999 and while the GPSU appeared to be behind the strike action it was the public servants themselves who ‘carried the fight’, so to speak. That was the last occasion on which public servants secured anything remotely resembling a meaningful salary increase.

It is, of course, no secret that there is much about the public service that needs fixing, including what, in many cases, is a quality of service that leaves a great deal to be desired. What is no less true, however, is that the average public servant has, for years been provided with sorry little incentive to raise his/her game. And while this does not mean that low standards must be accepted where they exist, it is unlikely to get higher standards out of people who have no real incentive to work.

The toughest part of being a public servant these days is being able, in many instances, to afford to meet some basic expenses like electricity, water and telephone bills, rent, children’s school texts and bus fares. Many public servants must put up with the indignity of having to pass up a pair of shoes or a new suit of clothing because to embrace such ‘indulgences’ might mean having to miss a meal or perhaps several meals.

Such research as this newspaper has done into the lending/borrowing pattern from the GPSU indicates that a few decades ago, loans from the credit union had to do mostly with acquiring household items that had to do with starting a home. Today, however, many, perhaps the majority of loans have to do with emergencies that range from medical and funeral expenses for ill or deceased relatives to settling what are sometimes exorbitant bills from the power company.

There is something disturbingly disfigured about a society in which those workers who serve as servants of the state must in many instances wallow in impoverishment, while those who engage in far less noble pursuits live a good deal better. And that this happens while a political administration that constantly claims to care about the nation continues to ignore this appalling anomaly for reasons that sometimes appear to be suspiciously political.

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