The General Council of the Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU) yesterday rejected the government’s offer of a 10% to 1% differentiated salary hike for public servants and called for a return to the bargaining table.
A meeting held at the GPSU headquarters yesterday saw 47 members representing various public sector agencies unanimously resolve to have the union’s negotiating team “reject the government’s final offer.”
This offer, which was made public last week, fell far below the GPSU’s initial demand of a 40% across-the-board hike.
Yesterday, the General Council further mandated that the negotiating team call on the Government of Guyana to observe the rules of the legally binding Agreement between the Government and the Union for the Avoidance and Settlement of Disputes and return to the bargaining table. Under the collective bargaining process, once talks between the two sides have broken down, the Labour Department of the Ministry of Social Protection would oversee conciliation talks. If these talks fail, the process moves to compulsory arbitration. The 1999 public service strike–the most serious in decades–was finally settled via the Armstrong Arbitration Tribunal.
Sources told Stabroek News that the members of the council were incensed, not just about the offer but by President David Granger’s saying that his administration was prepared to award the increase whether or not the union agreed.
The president was asked on this week’s Public Interest television programme, broadcast last evening, if his government was prepared to make an arbitrary award of the proposed differentiated increase, to which he responded, “the award we proposed is as much as we can do as of the first of September and we intend to proceed with that.”
He said that though the government entered into negotiations in good faith, it had done everything that was possible and was now making an offer which it could afford. He blamed the size of GuySuCo’s indebtedness as well as falling commodity prices for the lack of revenue needed to offer a larger increase.
The workers’ representatives have, however, signalled that that is not good enough and have asked their colleagues to show solidarity with their decision to continue asking for a larger increase by wearing a blue ribbon.
‘A living wage’
In coming to this decision, the council had been urged by GPSU President Patrick Yarde, in his opening address, to consider several things, including “whether or not the extent of the government’s pay offer is consistent with its own stated commitment to affording public servants a living wage.”
He also asked the council members to consider “Whether or not the extent of the government’s pay offer is consistent with the union’s concern that public servants be removed from the ranks of the employed poor. Whether or not there is validity in the government’s argument that the extent of its pay offer is underpinned by the reality of affordability. Whether the government’s ‘final offer’ position on its pay offer (without even affording the union an opportunity to respond) is reflective of the spirit of fair and honourable discourse, one of the principles upon which the negotiations were premised apart from the fact that there is a legally binding agreement for the Avoidance and Settlement of Disputes between the Government of Guyana and the Guyana Public Service Union which both parties are bound to honour.”
Yarde also reminded council representatives that the government has refused to provide the union’s negotiating team with requested information relating to revenue and expenditure.
Also shared with council members was an extract from the Ministry of Finance’s 2016 Mid-Year Report, where it is stated at Appendix E4 that not a single dollar of a budgeted of $6,855,043,000 for other Employment Costs was spent and a revelation by the Minister of Finance Winston Jordan that to date less than half of the allocations in the 2016 Budget have been utilized.
Yarde also asked the council to analyse that fact that the subsidy of $9 billion dollars, allocated to GuySuCo in the 2016 National Budget, has been paid over in full and exhausted and that the GPSU’s delegation was notified during negotiations that a further $3 billion is to be provided to GuySuCo.
“In that context we must hear from everyone in this room. We must hear from your hearts, your consciences; we must hear those messages to this General Council derived from conversations with your colleagues and the talk in the streets and in the communities. At the end of these deliberations there should be clarity in our conclusions. There should be no doubt as to the collective response that we want to send to government. With your full and unwavering support we will be committed to sending that message from our members fearlessly,” he declared.
Meanwhile, the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Guyana (FITUG), in a statement released yesterday, also registered its “disgust” at what it dubbed the “virtually insulting” increase offer made by the Granger-led Administration.
“Betraying its rosy manifesto offer of “substantial increases,” the government’s miserly offer to its own employees is being made even as “the-good-life-for-all” seems to be now limited to those ministers who benefitted from the steep remuneration increases not too long after their swearing-in. Such increases are now salt in the wounds of the nation’s government employees,” FITUG said in a statement, where it offered its “whole-hearted” solidarity to the GPSU.
It said it embraces the GPSU’s contention that no full-time worker, whether public or private sector, should be forced to go hungry, without reasonable shelter, basic clothing, adequate leisure, and wages which doom a worker to poverty.
“Poverty robs the worker and his or her family of their self-esteem, their dignity and a decent life. FITUG is mindful of the struggles for a living wage carried out for years and which has helped to protect the workers at the lowest level of the socio-economic structure. Our situation calls not for a nominal wage, but a ‘real wage’ which can adequately cover the mounting cost of living,” it said.
FITUG also welcomed a recent announcement by the government that bauxite workers’ overtime would be tax-free and urged that similar consideration be given to workers in the private and public sectors as well. “The workers of Guyana, in sugar and in other economic entities, have more financial burdens piled upon their shoulders. The Coalition Government has a duty to implement a wage policy that would effectively address this reality in the interest of all our members,” it added.