Breaking its week-long silence on the government’s announced imposition of wage hikes for public servants, the Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU) yesterday said it was “betrayed” by the David Granger-led administration and union president Patrick Yarde declared that only “significantly stepped up militancy” will change the workers’ destiny of “peppercorn salaries” and “unacceptable conditions of service”.
Speaking at a press conference held at the GPSU’s headquarters in Georgetown, Yarde blasted the APNU+AFC administration for delivering “more of the same” to public servants, including a disregard for the collective bargaining process, but he would not commit its members to any form of industrial action.
“The entrenched official disregard for the principle of collective bargaining remains a reality and the take it or leave it underpinning that has customarily informed wages and salaries negotiations remains in vogue,” Yarde said.
Nonetheless, he maintained that the union’s executive would not move for a strike or any other industrial action without consensus from its members.
“A union does not have an army, it has members. When you take strike action, you don’t get paid. I made it clear there is a sacrifice and we took a conscious decision that we will not go down the road of having our members lose pay every time they need something,” Yarde said, after he stressing that while the public service strike of 1999 had significant benefits, it also took great sacrifice.
Take the money
In the delayed response to government’s announcement of its final offer for increases in public servants’ wages and salaries, Yarde advised members of the union to take the money since he knows they need it. He maintained that members collecting the salary increases will not affect negotiations, since the union will “sign nothing.”
Last week, Minister of State Joseph Harmon announced at a post-Cabinet press briefing that government had made its final offer on wage and salary increases to the GPSU. This offer increases the minimum wage from GYD$55,555 to GYD$60,000. Additionally those earning between GYD$55,555 to GYD$99,999 will have an 8 % increase; with 6 % for those earning GYD$100,000 to GYD$299,999; 5 % for those earning GYD$300,000 to GYD$499,999; 4 % for those earning GYD$500,000 to GYD$699,999; 2 % for persons making GYD$700,000 to GYD$799,000; and 0.5% for those earning GYD$800,000 to GYD$1 million.
The offer was made after one meeting with the union on October 16th, 2017. It was also made in the face of the union position that negotiations for 2016 increases had not been completed.
According to Yarde, the government’s actions seem to be guided by several anti-union elements in the administration. He declined to name these elements when asked but noted that GPSU has been “confronted with the same attitude to public servant wages and salaries as obtained when the office of Finance Minister was held by Bharrat Jagdeo, at which time the current serving Finance Minister Winston Jordan held the position of Budget Advisor and Chief Negotiator [for] wages and salaries.”
He further accused Jordan and by extension the APNU+AFC government of dishonouring a commitment made in the 2015 budget presentation to address all allowances accruing to public servants expeditiously.
Government had in 2015 and 2016 imposed increases. In 2016, this imposition resulted in the union’s executive council declaring a deadlock in negotiations and directing its negotiation team to approach the Department of Labour for conciliation, in keeping with the agreement with government for the avoidance and settlement of disputes.
Responding to questions from Stabroek News yesterday, Yarde revealed that the union never received a call from the Labour Department but “decided to step back” after hearing President David Granger declare in the media that there was no deadlock. “I would not disrespect a request from the president of the country. I took him in good faith. I believed him when he said the negotiations were not deadlocked and we stepped back. Our request for conciliation is still valid but we did not pursue anything,” Yarde explained.
Granger had told reporters during a September, 2016 taping of the televised programme, ‘The Public Interest,” that “there’s no reason for conciliation at this stage because we are still engaged, it is not as though the talks are deadlocked. We are willing to move ahead and we can’t have the public servants suffering because of the slow pace of negotiations.”
In that same interview, the president had referred to the government’s offer of differentiated wage increases for public servants as an interim offer. “[It] is not a final offer; it is an offer which allows the government to get on with its business and allow the public servants to enjoy the increase in pay to which we feel that they are entitled,” Granger had said.
‘Can do better’
Despite this public statement, the GPSU had been told via a letter, signed by Permanent Secretary of the Department of Public Service, that “the government’s side …considered that the increases in 2016 were final.”
The letter further declared that the 2017 offer represented what the national economy “could afford.”
According to Yarde, that pronouncement doesn’t hold weight. “I am saying government could do better to pay public servants. Look around and see how money could be found to do a variety of things, while money can’t be found to pay those slaving in the public service. It is a deliberate attempt to keep them in poverty… It is uncaring and cruel and we will stand up against it. They have money to do better than they are doing,” he emphatically declared.
According to Yarde, while public servants are getting allowances last updated in 1995, others “are getting the going rate.”
He reminded that he had not objected to the 50% increase in ministers’ salaries in 2015 and noted that he still believes the increase was not excessive but noted that there are “other things” which are questionable.
When Cabinet ministers raised their salaries, I stated it was not excessive and I still believe that but I also noted that there were other inadequate salaries. There seems to be handpicking of which salaries to increase. We have asked for salaries and allowances of ministers and other officials. While salaries we believe were not excessive, there are other things that seem irregular,” Yarde told reporters.
He later declared that “the whole of Guyana should be aware of what the public service is capable of” but consistently refused to commit to any form of or time period for industrial action.
Asked if reporters should expect a similar press conference next October, Yarde said if that were the case then it would not be with “Patrick Yarde as President.”
Asked if the situation will be allowed to persist beyond the reading of the 2018 budget next month, Yarde responded, “I said we ain’t impatient.”
He noted that “people try to get us to disrupt Christmas season and that requires consensus,” the consultation process for which has started.
Reminded by reporters that the union has held similar press conferences every year in the recent past, Yarde said that there had been significant action taken against the previous administration.
Asked to identify any action taken in the last five or 10 years, Yarde refused, while noting that he did not want anyone to claim the union has delivered a threat. He also refused to have his union’s actions before the APNU+AFC administration came to power judged.
“There’s only been two years since this government and we didn’t enter into the relationship with baggage. We wanted to give them time. Two years is a reasonable time to get themselves settled. It is a different environment. I will not refer to anything prior,” Yarde said.