Last Updated on Monday, 1 May 2017, 16:54 by Denis Chabrol
Government and the political opposition Monday (May 1, 2017) traded barbs over treatment of workers and the overall economic state of affairs in the country, even as unions leaders sought to herald the return of a unified labour movement in Guyana.
Attracting an ever dwindling cadre of unionized workers, the few hundred persons that took part in this year’s Labour Day celebrations assembled for the start of the annual parade despite the threat of inclement weather.
Workers and union leaders alike donned their red and whites with some bearing placards marched through the streets of Georgetown before culminating at the National Park for a clearly lackluster rally which saw most of the participants leaving even before the halfway point of the programme.
Unlike previous years which had seen a two rallies, this year celebrations was held under one venue—organised by the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Guyana (FITUG) and the Guyana Trade Union Congress (GTUC).
This year’s rally was held under the theme: ‘Organizing, a necessary pre-requisite in building a strong united trade union movement.’
Noticeably absent was Head of State, President David Granger who was instead represented by Minister of Natural Resources Raphael Trotman and Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo who sent chief whip Gail Teixeira in his stead.
Other leaders to join in the celebrations were Corretta McDonald, Norris Witter, Karen Van Slutyman Corbin, Lincoln Lewis and Komal Chand among others. Granger, instead, opted to visit several union headquarters.
Politicians were also out in full force with government ministers Dominic Gaskin, Jaipaul Sharma, Karen Cummings, Annette Ferguson and Keith Scott, while the opposition was seen represented by former government Ministers Samuel Hinds, Bishop Juan Edghill and Bheri Ramsaran.
Others in attendance included former Prime Minister and Georgetown Mayor, Hamilton Green and former President Donald Ramotar.
Speaking on behalf of President Granger, Minister of Natural Resources Trotman, in addressing the now almost empty stands of the National Park called on workers to be willing to go the extra mile with regards realization the potential of the country and that further the union bodies must recognize the 21st century dynamics of organized labour and adjust accordingly.
Trotman used the occasion to take umbrage at the opposition Chief Whip Teixeira, who in her remarks before him, had sought to castigate the administration over several positions taken with regards workers rights and the management of the economy generally.
Minister Trotman told the few remaining workers including a contingent of nurses, that the political opposition has repeatedly been peddling fabrications and downright lies to the Guyanese people and used as example the allegation, only 50 jobs will be made available to locals when commercial oil production begins.
Recalling the words of his one-time mentor, former President Hugh Desmond Hotye, the Minister of Natural Resources recalled his often referred to adage of their being lies, damned lies and statistics. According to Trotman, the available statistics speak a different story than adumbrated by the opposition chief whip.
Teixeira, in her presentation to the gathering, spoke of failing sectors of the economy, job contraction and losses.
Her presentation was disturbed on numerous occasions when know supporters of the coalition A Partnership for National Unity, Alliance for Change (APNU-AFC), clearly annoyed with her aspersions cast against the administration began heckling loudly.
The small yet ruckus bunch could be heard yelling repeatedly, ‘tell us about the future’and ‘you aint done yet’ before the group broke out into song—singing the union day’s anthem ‘Solidarity Forever’
Calling on Guyanese to not be fooled by the political opposition Trotman told those remaining for the conclusion of the rally, “don’t be fooled by what you are told…stand firm and stand fast.”
$32B in 21 months
Responding to several criticisms leveled that President Granger was ignoring the overtures on the part of the opposition Minister Trotman said this is far from the truth and is in fact in the reverse, since it is the President who is awaiting the submission of representatives from the opposition for participation in a number of boards and committees.
Calling for a new approach in the relationship between government workers and unions, Minister Trotman acknowledged the status quo as not in the healthiest of positions and that this new model must take account of the existing realities.
Responding to lamentations by union leader Komal Chand and Teixeira, Minister Trotman was adamant, hard decisions must be made with regards the future of the sugar industry.
According to Trotman, a failing organ cannot be treated with an aspirin and the same obtains with the Guyana Sugar Corporation which in a matter of 21 months had to be subsidized to the tune of $32B.
Trotman recalled when the previous administration decided to close the Diamond Estate, it was then deemed a necessary measure and there was nothing done wrong. According to Trotman, “it is now necessary for some difficult decision to be made.”
Pointing to the depleting available foreign currency reserves, Minister Trotman pointed the $32B that was sunk into GuySuCo as subsidy.
The Natural Resources Minister told those gathered that President Granger and government is prepared to commit to a new order where policies, relationships and interactions between stakeholders are better aligned.
“It can’t be between us and them, it must be us and them together…we need to redefine the relations between unions and government,” according to Trotman.
He was adamant, “as we go further there is need for us to adapt in the way labour is organized and in the way the struggle is waged.”
He conceded that government has not been able to make good on all of its manifesto promises, but at the same time the Natural Resources Minister pointed to some successes. He identified the Collective Bargaining Agreement process and said while this has not been restored in its entirety the process has begun.
According to Trotman, the sky is not falling on Guyana and its resilient people will in fact weather the current economic downturns and that the nation’s fortunes will soon be reversed with the expected oil revenues.
This year’s activity commenced shortly after 08:00hrs with just about 1,000 unionized workers and other leaders snaking their way through the Capital City and converging at the National Park.
The crowds almost immediately on reaching the National Park began trickling back out—some heading back to their respective union halls. By the end of the third presentation, the venue was practically empty leaving Minister Trotman to deliver the keynote address the few dozen persons that had stayed behind.