Guyanese must not have to settle for oil crumbs

-Lewis tells May Day rally

One of the few placards which were displayed during this year’s May Day Rally. The Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU) has since 2015 been attempting to negotiate an increase in allowances for public servants but these attempts have been resisted by government which has not raised allowances in more than 20 years.

General Secretary of the Guyana Trades Union Congress, Lincoln Lewis has called for measures to be put in place to ensure that citizens are not forced to work for crumbs in the oil and gas sector while foreigners benefit and suggested several amendments to the rules surrounding the functioning of the National Assembly.

“Already it has been brought to Labour’s attention that there exists disparity in remuneration for locals doing the same job as foreign labourers,” he stressed at yesterday’s May Day rally, adding that the exploitation of oil and gas, attracts external investment and attention just as bauxite, gold, diamonds and forestry and there must be a new approach to ensure Guyanese benefit tremendously from these resources.

Further, according to Lewis, labour calls on government to utilize revenue from the oil and gas sector to revamp the healthcare system, so that all 10 administrative regions should have a main referral hospital, with modern diagnostic and treatment capabilities, including emergency facilities capable of dealing with severe injuries.

Entire families turned out to celebrate workers at yesterday’s May Day rally.

“We call for the establishment of free dialysis service delivered from a central point where all can access. A healthy nation is a productive nation. We call for the provision of free education from nursery to university as enshrined in Article 27 of the Constitution,” he told the gathering.

The GTUC he later explained is also calling for several changes to the political system which they argue will create a real inclusionary democracy.

Included in these changes is the adjustment to the number of votes required for the passage of certain Bills in the National Assembly. Lewis argued that such a change would result in the need for greater collaboration between government and opposition while a new system that allows for electing the regional members of parliament through direct balloting will bring about greater representation and accountability to the community they are elected to serve.

Article 106(6) of the Guyana Constitution which currently provides that a no confidence motion is passed if a majority of members of the Assembly vote in favour was also scrutinized.

Lewis on behalf of the GTUC called for an immediate amendment to allow for at least two-thirds or 60% support from all members of the National Assembly for a no-confidence vote to be passed.

“This is important to circumvent the risk of one vote in the National Assembly swaying the will of the people,” he argued, adding that the union also calls “for legislation and convention to establish guidelines for how government and parliament `function’ after a successful passage of the vote.”

Meanwhile, Lewis has also called for politicians who boycott meetings to be treated as striking workers who are not paid while engaging in industrial action.

“If [the Guyana Elections Commission] can’t work and the commissioners breaking up meeting and walking out, then all you will have to say is ‘don’t pay those people’. I want to tell you this is serious business. You can’t get one standard for the political operatives and then another standard for the man down here,” Lewis said.

He told the gathering at the National Park that there must be an “across-the-board” treatment for those who don’t work. Therefore, as workers who strike are not paid by employers so too should politicians who protest by being absent including parliamentarians who boycott sittings of the National Assembly. 

“Let us…demand that they earn their pay by serving us justly in and out of government. These leaders who are paid by the people owe it to the people to conduct the business of the electorate. Those who do not go to the National Assembly must not be paid because the people who they represent when they strike are not paid,” Lewis said, adding that lawmakers should to take their issues to the National Assembly- thrash them out there and debate them.

The veteran trade unionist further stressed that everything should not be a partisan battle in Guyana, wearing our people down, where there is nothing that we can find common ground on and see the need to work together.

Tuesday marked the ninth meeting of GECOM which was aborted following a walkout by the Opposition-nominated members while Opposition members of parliament regularly leave the House after Leader of the Opposition Bharrat Jagdeo has delivered his contribution to the budget debate. This exit is a protest of a decision by the government side of the House to have Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo deliver a rebuttal to Jagdeo, contrary to what was previously the norm.

Currently the Opposition is boycotting the Assembly as they contend the December 21 No Confidence Motion was validly passed.  

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