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Trade Unionists, Prime Minister clash over workers rights at May Day Rally

As Guyana joined the rest of the world in the observance of Labour Day 2016, there was a heated debate between the trade unionists and Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo over whether the APNU+AFC administration had the best interest of the working class at heart.

It began with Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) President Komal Chand calling out the administration over the handling of the closure of the Wales Sugar estate.

Not stopping there, Chand said that the government must respect the collective bargaining process as was stated in its election manifesto.

“We must again emphasize our displeasure at the disrespect shown to Collective Bargaining, a revered Trade Union/Employer engagement, which was denied to the GAWU last year (2015)…collective bargaining helps to establish healthy worker-employer relationships. From this Trade Union platform we urge the authorities to ensure that this commitment for Collective Bargaining is honoured,” said Chand.

The brunt of the criticism came from the General Secretary of the Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC) Lincoln Lewis who wasted no time in calling out the government on it’s failure to effect wage increases for 2016.

Government has said that it is awaiting the results of the Public Service Commission of Inquiry before it proceeds. But Lewis was adamant that the Government can and should engage the Unions in good faith as mandated by the Labour Laws.

He said that Government should immediately commence salary negotiation with the unions as it has “nothing to do with the work of the Commission of Inquiry.”

He made it clear that he was there to “talk my mind” and belch what is on my stomach” as the tirade against the President David Granger Administration continued.

Still on the issue of salaries, Lewis stated that the Administration must treat with workers in the same manner that it has treated with itself.

The salaries for Government Officials and other appointees were increased by 50% during the first months of the coalition’s term with the reason being given as an anti-corruption mechanism.

He said that the same rationale must be used when the Government meets to negotiate with trade unions over increases for public sector workers.

“50% and we aint gon tek no bribe,” he bellowed.

Lewis told the gathering that there is some talk of a move by the Government to ditch the Teachers Debunching Plan, since it is seen as an elections promise of the Former administration.

He said the agreement was made between the Government and the Guyana Teachers Union and regardless of which Party occupies the seats of Government; that agreement must be honoured.

For his bashing of the Administration, Lewis was booed by several persons in the crowd and nicknamed “Bharrat Jagdeo.”

In his response to the concerns raised by the trade Unionists, the Prime Minister made it clear that the administration was working towards the betterment of the working class.

He downplayed the concerns raised by Lincoln as being the same concerns raised every year by the trade unionists who has now become a broken record – stuck on one track.

“I know he had been doing that speech for the past 20 years so the day has come that he rocks to the motion…So he found everything under the sun for which he could criticize and indict this 11 month old coalition,” said PM Nagamootoo.

He said that the very persons calling on Government to honor collective bargaining promises were the ones that sent it to the ground.

“We hear here this recitation of collective bargaining, collective bargaining, collective bargaining from those who presided over the funeral of collective bargaining,” said Nagamootoo.

He maintained that the Administration is committed to dealing with salary increases this year for 2016.

“We must have an arrangement that not only deals with salaries and wages but we must return to merit awards,” he said later adding “we have to look at the bigger picture we cannot take the tree for the forest and be lost.”

In this vein he announced that 43.8B has been set aside in the 2016 National Budget to cater for wages and salaries and another 6.6B for improvements to allowances and benefits.