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GPSU calls on public servants to stage industrial action against pay-hike; Teachers Union demands tax-free increase, other benefits

Last Updated on Friday, 19 November 2021, 6:26 by Denis Chabrol

The Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU) on Thursday called on public servants to start industrial action against the 7 percent pay increase that government announced.

“The GPSU calls on all Public Servants to work to rule and to effectively convey to the Government their rejection with the way they are being abused by them,” the union said.  Work-to-rule leads to less efficiency as workers do exactly what is stipulated in their contracts and provides little or no leeway for them to  be disciplined.

The union also called for unity among workers in and out of the public service to “make whatever sacrifice is necessary to put an end to this uncaring unconscionable, ruthless and treatment and dishonesty.”

Also joining in condemning the wage and salary increase, which is retroactive to January 2021, was the Guyana Teachers Union (GTU). That union calculated that the pay increase would actually amount to 3.5 percent for 2021.

“The announced salary increase will further increase every item consumers need to get by in December 2021 and beyond. The pittance cannot cushion the inflation taking place in Guyana presently. Essentially, we will be worse off than when we started. Teachers will be hard press to feed themselves and family this season because of the high cost of living,” the GTU said.

Against the background of a multi-year agreement that provides for an 8 percent non-taxable increase in 2019, the GTU recommended that government does not tax the 7 percent increase for this year, pay outstanding clothing allowances for teachers for this year in December, resolve the outstanding debunching payment to teachers for December 2021 and resolve the difference in salary for teachers who were employed during the period 2016 to 2020.

The GTU is also demanding another GY$200 million to the amount set aside for frontline workers so that teachers who have been in the forefront can be compensated like medical personnel. Further, the teachers union wants the government to negotiate salary and non-salary matters.

“The GTU believes that our government can do better to make the lives of educators better by ensuring that they are adequately compensated for their effort. Guyana has more than enough resources to distribute among our hard-working teachers,” the GTU said.

Similarly, the GPSU lambasted the government for handing out a 7 percent increase. In apparent reference to the several cash transfers since returning to office in August, 2020, that union accused the government of  spending “public resources on political gimmicks.”

The union slammed the People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPPC) administration for violating the collective labour agreement and international conventions that provide for negotiations, and also breaking its 2020 election promise to be inclusive. “The imposition of the 7% has been arbitrarily imposed and in conflict with the government’s legal obligation to negotiate these outcomes and the elections commitment to be inclusive and genuine in the interest of all citizens,” the union said.

The People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR), the largest party in the opposition coalition of A Partnership for National Unity+Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC), lampooned the Irfaan Ali-led administration for delivering a meagre 7 percent pay hike in the face of a 14 percent increase in food prices. That political party, which historically draws the majority of its support from among public sector workers, state security services and teachers, said the wage and salary hike could not compensate for a loss in jobs among many Guyanese households.

“In many homes at least one income earner has lost their job over the last year further reducing the spending capacity of families. The President recently informed the nation that the situation will worsen over the next year and the PPP’s solution to this horrible economic climate is a 7% increase for Public Servants. They deserve better and in comparison, they got better under the APNU+AFC administration,” the PNCR said. That party also cautioned the government against boasting about its several direct cash grants as an excuse for the paltry increase.

The PNCR reflected on its period in office- 2015 to 2020- when senior public servants were awarded a lower percentage increase than junior public servants, thereby ensuring that the income gap would reduce overtime.  “The PPP’s single rate across-the-board increase is intended to widen the gap between those who have much and those who have little. This should not be a surprise as it has always been the PPP’s approach,” the PNCR said.

For its part, the government has promised to next year fix the wage and salary gaps among the least and more qualified persons as part of an overall plan to adjust the salary scales in the public sector. “Your government has recognised the existence of a number of anomalies and disparities across positions within the public service salary scales, as a result of which there are marked inconsistencies across the pay received by persons holding similar qualifications but occupying different posts depending on the agency in which they work, the post to which they are appointed, and the salary scale in which their post is classified,” Finance Minister Dr. Ashni Singh said.

He also said that GY$400 million have been set aside for a “special” payout to health sector workers who have been on the frontline in the fight against the more than one-year long COVID-19 pandemic. He noted that they continue “to face extenuating circumstances in the daily discharge of their duties.” That payout is expected to be made in December.