Trade unions are accepting crumbs from the master’s table

Dear Editor,

The recognized trade unions in public institutions such as the University of Guyana, the Public Service, and the Teaching Service seem to be accepting the crumbs falling from the masters’ table. This has been their experience for several years. They are not acting and working in the fair and just interest of their members as they are obligated and required to do under the Trade Union Recognition Act. The unions in these public institutions should negotiate to finality and if necessary, resort to the arbitration process for finality. They are neglecting their core duty and mandate under the law and the unions’ constitutions. They are missing a golden opportunity to base their negotiations on the realistic remuneration levels set by the 2015 incoming APNU+AFC government. This must be the trade unions’ reference point in their negotiating encounters with the public employers.

The nation noted that within weeks after assuming office in May 2015, the APNU+AFC government set an admirable example in recognizing the inadequate remuneration for political public servants and awarded some 50% salary increases and enhanced allowances to ministers and others in the government and members of the National Assembly. It seems as if it is self-first or self-interest by the governing authorities, as these increases were not negotiated by the trade unions for their members or conceded by government on a comparative and fair basis, taking into account the  remuneration relationship between the political public servants and civil public servants.

The trade union leaders appear to be in deep slumber, since they are more obedient to politicians than their sacred duty to represent the collective and individual interests of their members. The reference points for remuneration at the University of Guyana must relate to the remuneration of the Vice Chancellor, and his ‘cabinet’ at the university, and the Bertrand College for public servants.

What is the level of production and productivity in these public service institutions? What is the profitability of these in dollars to the economy in comparison to GuySuCo in a fair and objective evaluation? Compare GuySuCo’s contribution to the national treasury in terms of foreign currency, contributions to the National Insurance Scheme (NIS), public infrastructure works, medical services, and the thousands in Demerara and Berbice and the communities around the sugar estates? How can the internationally declared statement to Heads of Government in Africa by President David Granger that people come first and not profits be interpreted in relation to the treatment of workers in the sugar industry? Why is the approach taken in the sugar industry to substantially reduce workers not taken in relation to the over-staffing in the public service, Georgetown municipality and other public agencies, and the unnecessary number of vice-presidents, ministers and political advisers? Is it the politics of race and power that continue to bedevil our country?

A 50% increase across the board, and a system to reflect improved wages and salary administration in the public institutions must be established. There is also the need for a forensic human resource audit to determine the optimum staff strength for every unit in public administration to counter the widespread perception of overstaffing and padding in public institutions, like the University of Guyana where many are employed part-time and hold other jobs fulltime, teaching most of the classes at UG in the late afternoon/evening and thus denying fulltime day classes.

The trade unions representing employees in the Public Service, University of Guyana, the Teaching Service and other public agencies, are challenged to re-open/resume negotiations with a minimum demand of a 50% increase across the board with appropriate adjustments to correct any anomalies retroactive to June 2015 when the politicians were handsomely rewarded, and motivated to sing lustily for their supper at every opportunity or contrived opportunity. This would be keeping with standards set by the government for political public officers.

Our trade unions can do better than the government’s negotiators of inexperienced ministers, who claim to be big time negotiators but who accepted and signed a deal that gives crumbs falling from ExxonMobil’s table to this nation. Shame on the government’s secret negotiators who gave away cheaply our natural resources for exploitation, and consequently the exploitation of our country and people.

Yours faithfully,

Joshua Singh

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