GPSU urges alleviation of plight of public servants in remote areas

The Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU) is appealing for “appropriate rectification measures” to alleviate a number of conditions which it says constitute the plight of public servants serving in remote areas of the country.

The GPSU in a press release yesterday highlighted the situation of these public servants under the broad areas of salary and allowances; working and living conditions; punitive conditions; and the delivery of quality public services in the interest of National Development.

The union further noted its concern over what it referred to as several blatant acts of victimization that have been perpetrated on public servants, in particular, the tactic of transferring them to interior, hinterland and remote areas as a form of punishment, rather than as a means of broadening their work experience so as to prepare them for service in higher capacities.

In that regard, the GPSU stated that it has noted a number of instances where this has occurred, and is “publicly registering its abhorrence to the utilization of an otherwise legitimate form of placement and experience, in the form of a weapon of ill means.”

Reiterating the issue of poor wages and salaries paid to public servants by the government of the day, the union noted that this situation has resulted in a number of former and current public servants being unable to independently sustain themselves or being categorized among the employed poor.

The release noted that President of the GPSU, Patrick Yarde in his address to the Biennial Delegates Conference last October alluded to workers having to depend on other sources of income such as working additional jobs and receiving remittances from family and friends in order to supplement their meagre incomes.

“This situation is a harsh reality for the public servant serving in remote areas, such as the interior, hinterland and riverain areas. These workers are paid wages and salaries at similar rates as their counterparts in the city, but face astronomical prices of goods and services [because] of the cost involved in transporting goods and services to such areas from… Georgetown, among other things,” the union said.

Moreover, very often their salaries are received late, long after the stipulated pay date and they are left to fend for themselves and families “like persons in a canoe without an oar,” the GPSU charged.

Citing another dilemma, the union noted that with new appointments, workers are sometimes made to wait for periods ranging between three and six months before they are paid, “ostensibly exhausting savings and/or depending heavily on the generosity of family, friends and members of the community in which they serve for survival.”

The union further contended that “as if the lowly wages and salaries were not bad enough, the benefits and allowances, which are an integral part of the worker’s income and his/her ability to function effectively in the workplace, [are] abysmal.”

The GPSU pointed out that the last major increase in these entitlements was done over 17 years ago under the Cheddi Jagan administration.

“Back in 1995, a number of allowances were increased to what was considered princely sums. Examples of the increases were: Lodging ($1,000 per night); Station Allowance ($2,800 – $2,000 per night); Travelling Allowance – Motor Car ($11,730 – $7,820 per month; $39.10 – $19.09 per mile); Travelling Allowance – Auto Cycle and Bicycle ($1,900 – $540 per month; $6.17 – $0.55 per mile),” the union recapped.

The GPSU further pointed out that “seventeen years later, these allowances remain the same even though inflation would have systematically eroded their value, rendering them inadequate and inconsequential.”

According to the GPSU, “effectively, workers are subsidizing the government as they are forced to use their own money and/or seek creative ways to continue to execute their jobs under difficult circumstances and conditions.”

The union also highlighted that compounding the problem of inadequate wages, salaries and allowances are the atrocious living and working conditions in many of the interior, hinterland and remote locations.

Many government buildings in these areas do not meet the minimum standards under the Occupational Health and Safety Act and many are in dire need of rehabilitation while others need to be remodelled or reconstructed.

Similarly, poor and inadequate repairs and maintenance have rendered many living quarters uninhabitable, the union observed.

Workers are forced to live in quarters that are rotting; without proper shelter from the elements of nature, and without proper lighting, potable water and sanitation disposal, the union said.

The GPSU is calling on the government and the Members of Parliament “to cooperate and redress the ills faced by the beleaguered public servants who are without a doubt the ‘cog’ in the operations of government.”