Opposition Leader David Granger yesterday said that pressure would be kept on government to ensure a good life for all citizens, while defending the recent budget cuts as a move to end executive lawlessness and reduce the cost of living.
“We are not trying to bring government to a halt. We are trying to bring lawlessness to a halt. We are trying to reduce the cost of living. We are trying to reduce the poverty in Guyana. That is what APNU is about and we will stand by the workers 365 days a year. This year and every year, we want all of the labour unions to look towards APNU,” he said, during his address to those gathered at the Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC) Labour Day rally, at the Critchlow Labour College, at Woolford Avenue.
Workers from A Partner-ship for National Unity (APNU), the Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU) and the Guyana Postal and Telecommunications Workers Union (GPTWU), after marching through several city streets with others unions, converged in the College’s auditorium.
Labour Minister Dr. Nanda Gopaul walked out on the rally after listening to some of the proceedings. Gopaul, who had been seated at the head table, left shortly after GTUC General Secretary Lincoln Lewis concluded his speech, in which he accused the government of dismantling the public service and exploiting contract workers.
Granger, who adopted a bright red shirt in lieu of his trademark green to show solidarity with workers, said that labour was on a road to give Guyanese people a good life and APNU was walking “hand-in-hand, step-by-step” with the GTUC to deliver a good life to workers. To this end, he noted that a very long and complicated budget process has just been completed. “From the start, APNU said that for this budget to mean anything to the working people of Guyana, we must put it to the test and our test was very simple,” he said, pointing to a flier that outlined that the opposition was calling on the government to make changes to the budget to ensure that it would lower the cost of living, stimulate growth and improve the quality of life for working people.
The budget was passed in the National Assembly last week after the joint opposition, APNU and the AFC, slashed more than $21B from it. Granger said everything the opposition has fought for, including the reducing of VAT and the restructuring of GINA and NCN, is for the country’s working class.
“We cannot take this country forward when one third of the population is poor, is begging, can’t participate in the economy and that is why we recognise that there has been no development in this country unless working people are developed,” he shouted above loud applause.
He noted that no bridge or road is more important than the development of the working people and said the removal of poverty is the first step to progress in Guyana. In this regard, he was firm that unless the budget deals with the issue of poverty, “there is no budget at all. We are not going to go to the parliament and have a rich man’s budget…We went there to fight for you and the first test of the budget is that there must be a reduction of the poverty level of this country.”
He said that some communities and citizens are being victimised because they are supporters of APNU and he used Linden as an example. “We want one Guyana not two Guyanas. Not Red Guyana and Green Guyana,” he stressed that his party intends to bring discrimination to an end.
Granger said that since last year, he stressed to President Donald Ramotar the need for establishing the tripartite budget committee but to no avail. He added that the government waited until March, when the APNU’s finance point man Carl Greenidge was overseas, to say “‘eh eh he out of de country, we can’t meet.’
That month end, the country was presented with “a ready made budget and that is why we had to take action. It is not a budget that came from the majority. It is not a budget that came from the people. It is not a budget that we had an input in.”
He added that the government tried to shut the opposition out. “They seh ‘heh’ and we seh ‘tek it back,’” Granger said to an eruption of laughter. He added that the opposition will continue to put pressure on the government to ensure that all citizens have a good life, while emphasising that there was no intention of putting anyone out of work.
“We don’t want to send workers from GINA home. We don’t want to send workers from NCN home. In fact, I doubt that any of them will go home,” he said, stressing that those who are criticising the budget cuts should be asked what happens to the royalties from the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC), the money from the Lottery Fund and the billions of dollars that are not revealed to the National Assembly.
“You do not know the full truth because the state media are not free,” he noted, while singling out Linden, which only has access to state media. “That is why we said that there must be freedom of communication. I do not have to negotiate freedom of communication. It is guaranteed for you in the constitution. I don’t have to make a deal. I don’t have to sign any agreement,” he stressed.
He said too that all the reports on GINA were of “PPP, PPP, PPP,” which prompted him to pen a letter to the Speaker of the National Assembly. “From the chair, the Speaker announced about GINA’s behaviour. We wrote a letter to Mr Neaz Subhan [head of GINA]. Mr. Subhan said he is doing what he’s supposed to do… Let the people who telling you to do that pay you. When you serve the 175, 000 people who voted from APNU and AFC, we’ll talk again,” Granger said, adding that the opposition’s position is not about ‘bullyism’ but fairness. He said that the state media is very biased and that the opposition is prepared to restore anything that was cut as long as the reforms are put in place.
Granger also addressed national security, while noting that citizens must not be living in fear of executions and other forms of criminal violence. “The PPP know who is causing the violence. The drug runners are pushing the violence in this country. They are bringing in guns. They are bringing in contraband. They are bringing in drugs,” he said, adding that there must be an end to the drug trade to eliminate fear in the country.
“We did not vote against CANU [the Customs Anti-Narcotics Unit]. CANU got its money under the Ministry of Home Affairs. We voted against the people who threw away the master plan. We voted against people who for 12 years refused to have the [US Drug Enforcement Agency] in Guyana. Mr [Clement] Rohee knows who those people are. Those people are the People’s Progressive Party/Civic,” Granger said.
“This government is not giving you the plan, the strategies to deal with crime,” he added, arguing that law enforcement has basically not been given crime fighting tools. He said that the police need planes, boats, ATVs and to be brought up to strength to effectively deal with crime. “There was no indication in the budget that they would strengthen the police force to protect you, the working people of this country,” Granger stressed.
The opposition leader also said that APNU made it clear that $800 million is inadequate to run the University of Guyana (UG). He pointed out that when he visited Matthews Ridge, where manganese mining is being restarted, he met persons from a range of countries “because the Guyana university no longer produces the scientists.”
He said that so much emphasis was placed on UG because it is from there that graduates can be employed as lecturers at the Cyril Potter College of Education, which in turn is responsible for making the country an educated nation again. “If you starve UG, you starve Cyril Potter, yuh starving yuh own pickney them,” he said.
He called on the government to restore the subvention to the Critchlow Labour College, stressing that the opposition “would restore the quality of life that you deserve and that you demand.”
Meanwhile, Lewis stated that there is currently a mockery of the working class, where workers rights are violated and they are threatened by the loss of jobs.
“Should this government carry out its threats to put another set of workers on the breadline for political purposes, the parliament must take action. The workers of this country must no longer be made sacrificial lambs,” he said, in reference to reports that NCN and GINA employees could be sent home following cuts to their subvention and budget, respectively, by the opposition. Lewis called on the opposition to take this matter seriously.
He also criticised the PPP/C’s practice of using contracted workers, whom he said are not public servants. “A contract worker squats on a public service job and cannot be held accountable under the Public Service Rules,” he said.
“It is difficult to understand [why] persons who are vested with the responsibility to manage the nation’s business have continued to advocate paying workers different salaries and conditions for performing the same duties, and the only conclusion that can be arrived at is that the government is comfortable exploiting a group of workers by paying them different salaries for the same job and creating a divide and rule at the workplace, which undermines the professional environment and compromises delivery of service,” he said, adding that contract workers cannot join the union and operate at the whims and fancies of the government and have no protection under the law.
Lewis argued that the PPP/C’s programme of degutting the public service as an institution, violating the Public Service Rules and the Trade Union Recognition Act and transgressing the rights of workers must be brought to an end. The introduction of contract workers in the state entity, he said, has dehumanised young men and women and he called for the practice to be brought to an end.
Later, he said that “job loss is not something labour takes lightly because we have an abiding interest in full employment. For any job loss is a loss to income and will affect the economic wellbeing of that worker, their family and the community,” he said.
GTUC President Norris Witter also addressed the issue of contract workers and stated that the people that “this regime” is referring to as contracted workers do not fit the definition for that class of workers. “They are misquoting the definition of contract workers,” he said. “The intention is clear. The intention is an act of union busting to create a parallel public service, to miniaturise and emasculate the unions operating within the public sector,” he added.
According to Witter, the contract workers do not have security of tenure and as a consequence they are open to all forms of exploitation. “If they do not do the biddings of the master, the contract is terminated. In some instances, the contract is terminated even before it reaches the agreed duration for termination,” he said, using the example of fired UG lecturer Freddie Kissoon.
Some of these workers, he said, become victims of “the state’s apparatus” while some have allowed themselves to become victims of their own selves.
He told the gathering that he believes that the time has come for less talking and more action. “We have a lot of work to do. If we are to be effective in whatever we have to do. We have not been doing too well. We have to step up to the plate,” he stressed, adding that the November 28, 2011 elections has given all hope regardless of what party they voted for.
Witter called on all present to support the congress in its fight for labour demands, including immediate discussions on a new minimum wage and retirement age as well as commissions to be set up to investigate the workings of CLICO, the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) and GuySuCo. “These demands will remain just what they are, demands on paper, unless we are prepared to develop the testicular fortitude to go out there and to struggle for the realisation of these demands,” he added.