The Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU) yesterday signalled its intention to intensify its struggle against government’s imposition of a 5% wage hike on public servants although no decision has been made as yet on industrial action.
“We are prepared to be civil[ly] disobedient,” GPSU President Patrick Yarde told a news conference, while warning that the government will be responsible for the fallout from such actions.
Yarde said that it was “disturbing” that the 15% increase catered for in the national budget has been slashed significantly, especially in light of Guyana’s inflation rate and he noted that roughly 30% of what will be given will be taxed if a worker’s salary is above $50,000.
With government once again arbitrarily imposing an increase outside of collective bargaining, he said some public servants have already taken some industrial action aimed at increasing public awareness of the situation and to begin to move the government in the direction of reviewing its position.
Even as Yarde spoke, nurses from the Georgetown Public Hospital did not turn out for work. The Guyana Geology and Mines Commission and other public servants in Linden also demonstrated against the arbitrary increase over the past week.
Yarde said that a significant number of people in the union, both in high and low positions, were ready and willing to take the necessary actions, although he did not elaborate on the specifics of these actions.
The GPSU, however, is not rushing to take industrial action. The public service is one of the largest work forces and arguably the most critical since literally the entire country depends on public servants on a daily basis for a wide array of services and industial action taken across the board would affect thousands.
“Industrial action by the public service union is all encompasing,” Yarde said, while explaining that “there will be consequences for innocent people” once action is taken. However, Yarde said the GPSU’s General Council intends to meet on the way forward and he said that the government will be issued with an ultimatum although, again, he did not delve into the details of it.
In December 2012, after the government’s announcement of a similar 5% increase for workers while it was still negotiating a new multi-year wage agreement with the union, the GPSU threatened “serious consequences” for labour relations unless the administration returned to the bargaining table within a one week timeframe from the issuance of its ultimatum. The government did not budge and the GPSU has still to act on its threat of serious consequences.
According to Yarde, workers in Bands 1 to 4, who make up in excess of 75% of the the public service, will see their salaries increase by less than $2,500 per month with the 5% increase, which is retroactive to January 2013.
He said that all workers above Band 5 will only receive an overall increase of about 3.5% since their salaries are above $50,000 and will therefore be taxed by way of PAYE. Band 6 workers, which includes HydroMet Officers, Field Officers and Staff Nurses, will be seeing an increase of $3,011 as a result of the 5%, but will only take home $2,017 as the difference will have to be remitted as taxes. Similarly, Band 8 public servants, which include Valuation Officers and Ward Sisters will be receiving an overall increase of $4,228 but will only take home $2,942 after taxation. Band 9 Workers will also be affected as Chief Accountants, Agricultural Workers and Fisheries Officers will see their salaries increase by $5,118 but will only be getting $3,583 because the rest will be remitted as taxes.
“This is what they are telling you you should be thankful for (but) anyone who is thankful for this lacks ambition,” Yarde lamented as he flayed the increase, which he described as a “pittance.”
Yarde was adamant that what is being offered by government is unaccepable and added that the union intends to “intensify the struggle” to get what was intially intended for workers.
‘Not above the law’
The union had previously pointed out that government had budgeted $4,403,509,000 for “Revision of Wages and Salaries,” which represents the provision for the revision of wages and salaries as 15.12%, 10% higher than the announced increase.
The fact that only 5% of the intitial 15% will be paid means that more than $3 billion will not be used for the purpose it was supposed to be used for. Yarde noted that President Donald Ramotar has blamed cuts made to the budget by the oppositon parties for the government’s “inability” to make the payments but said that the excuse is unacceptable.
Firstly, Yarde argued, the fact that the increase was approved since April but is only being paid now minus 10% shows that the government is striving to present the increase as a present to the workers. He also noted that after money for several government projects was cut, the government vowed to push ahead with some of these projects, but has failed to fulful a promise of a 15% wage increase for the very persons who voted it into power.
Furthermore, Yarde accused Cabinet Secretary Dr Roger Luncheon of deceiving the people when he said at a press conference that his announcement of the increase was not official and that an order would have to be made by the Public Service Minister for the necessary preparations.
Yarde said that he has evidence which shows that the decision to pay 5% instead of 15% was made some time earlier. He said that documents signed by the Auditor General pertaining to the increase are dated November 19th, meaning that the decision had to have been made some time before then.
He argued that no government has the power to change the intended use of funds without the approval of the National Assembly. Not even the President has the power to do so since “he is not above the law,” Yarde said, while adding that the people are not buying the excuses being presented by the government since “they are not idiots.”
Meanwhile, Yarde commended the opposition parties for coming out in support of its struggle on this matter, but in the same breath he chastised the Private Sector Commission for remaining silent on the issue.