By Jeff Trotman
Over 100 workers from the Linden Hospital Complex (LHC) staged a protest march and rally yesterday to oppose the 5% wage increase government has announced for public servants, and they heard a call for continued militancy until the administration agrees to a higher payout.
“The government eye pass people and you people have to stop that,” Region-al Councillor and former trade unionist Charles Sampson, who was among the speakers at the rally in front the Mackenzie Market, told workers.
During his address, Sampson described the 5% increase as “an insult” and he stated that 10% would be the same. He said the government has knocked out collective bargaining and every year end it comes up with a meagre increase for public servants under the assumption that although public servants will grumble, they will eventually accept it because they also want money to celebrate Christmas.
“It’s a ritual – every year is the same thing,” he said.
Calling on the public servants to be vigilant and to maintain their stance, Sampson said that he has been in the trade union movement for years but the government has deemphasized the relevance of the movement to the extent that workers are divided. “If you are divided you will not get anywhere,” he added, while pointing out that all over the country people are protesting the increase.
Sampson advised the workers that if they are to go back to the job, they should go slow. He said the people who get $300,000 and $400,000 per month will benefit quite unlike someone who gets $40,000 a month.
He said the National Assembly approved monies to the tune of $4.5B for revised salaries and the increase that the government is offering will only take up $1.5B of the money that has been passed. “These are things that you must take into consideration. They have money that they can pay more. So, I am saying to you this protest action must continue. And you don’t want 10%. The least you’re looking for is 15%,” he urged workers.
During the morning march, the protestors, many of them bearing placards, chanted: “Five per cent can’t wuk; ten per cent can’t wuk; twenty five per cent can wuk.”
The protest march, scheduled to commence at 9am from in front the LHC actually began at 9.20am because of heavy rainfall. The procession moved along the Washer Pond Road, David Rose Avenue, Republic Avenue and Co-op Crescent to the Wisroc Bus Park to in front the Mackenzie Market for the rally.
The Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU) has called the government’s announced intention to impose a 5% increase “illegal” and accused the Donald Ramotar administration of failing to honour a promise to end the annual practice of arbitrarily imposing the hike.
The union has also pointed out that the Appropriation Act reflected an allocation of G$29,130B to meet expenditure for “Wages and Salaries” this year and a further $4.404B for the “Revision of Wages and Salaries,” representing the provision for a 15.12% increase as opposed to the announced 5%.
It is against this background that the GPSU has stated that it will begin engaging in a series of activities to heighten awareness about the plight of the public servants, as well as calling on all members to challenge this abuse of authority. It said that the government’s action was in conflict with the Inter-national Labour Organisa-tion (ILO) Conventions, in violation with the laws of Guyana and legally binding collective agreements.
‘A living wage’
Maurice Butters, the Industrial Relations Repre-sentative of the GPSU (Linden Branch), also addressed the workers at the rally and he stated that the protest goes beyond salaries. According to him, it speaks to the core of the protestors’ existence because if one’s economic condition is not strong, every other thing in one’s life becomes weak.
“And the same thing happens to those who depend on you. So, what we are looking for is a living wage in which every one of us can satisfy our needs and the needs of our children and parents at the end of the month,” he said.
Butters said that he heard President Ramotar declare in a televised interview that the government cannot pay more than 5% because the opposition voted against the Amaila Falls, the Airport Extension and the Marriott Hotel during the budget consideration. Butters said that he wanted the protestors to know that the government would have been spending money on those projects and would not have been receiving money from them to pay workers. “So, there is no relationship,” he pointed out.
He said every year the National Assembly approves pay increases for public servants but they never get all of it and this year is no exception. “Our fore parents, people like Hubert Nathaniel Critchlow, Dr. Cheddi Jagan and Forbes Burnham made sacrifices and fought for the wellbeing of workers. But all that was gained during the time of those leaders are now being destroyed by this government,” Butters said. “Collective agreements were encouraged and signed. Last year, the ministers of government, including the Minister of Labour and all the politicians, were calling on GAWU to return to the bargaining table with GuySuCo to work out a wages package. But with the public servants, this is not happening. The Minister of Labour is quiet on this issue,” he added.
Butters apologized to the workers for the absence of Regional Chairman Sharma Solomon, who he said wanted them to know that he was 100% behind them as he sees himself as a public servant and he would also close his office and join them in protest when they take industrial action on the issue.
“He also asked to let you know that anything that affects the working people of Region Ten affects him also and he has indicated to me that whatever extra payment is given to him for this end of year increase in his salary he will give all of it as a donation,” Butters added.
Meanwhile, Regional Vice Chairman Byron Lewis, in commending the hospital workers’ militant stance, said that he was also disappointed that other public servants in the town, including teachers, did not participate in the protest.
“This government must understand that five per cent is like going to the market with a cent,” Lewis said, while adding that the government must understand that they should pay better wages because the job of the hospital workers is important, “because when we go to the hospital, we expect you to deal with us and if you are not satisfied, the way you would treat us, we would not be satisfied.”
Mortimer Livan, First Vice President of the GPSU, travelled from Georgetown to show solidarity with the protestors. During his address at the rally, Livan recalled that in the 16 years since the death of President Jagan in 1997, the government has shown scant regard for workers.
And health worker Marlyn Thomas exhorted the workers to continue the one hour daily protest they had engaged in since Tuesday this week. Noting that before the protest march and rally, the hospital workers had staged a daily one hour protest between noon and 1pm, she advised that they should extend the protest time by an hour until 2pm and there were shouts of agreement from her audience.