FITUG calls for increase in private sector minimum wage to cushion impact of rising cost of living

Last Updated on Monday, 1 May 2023, 17:01 by Denis Chabrol

Faced with an estimated 12 percent increase in cost of living, the Federation of Independent Trades Unions of Guyana (FITUG) on Monday- Labour Day- asked the government to increase the private sector minimum wage to GY$81,000 per month.

“As an interim measure, to assist our lower earning workers, the national minimum and public sector minimum wages should be equated to offer relief and breathing room to families who are harmed by the drastic price increases,” FITUG Treasurer, Seepaul Narine said in his address to that confederation’s rally.

The minimum public sector salary is GY$81,000 and the minimum private sector salary is $60,147.

Mr Narine bemoaned the rising cost of living, saying it remained a “pressing concern”.  “At the local level comrades, the cost of living remains a pressing concern. Officially food prices have gone up by twelve (12) percent. But comrades are telling us that they are paying much more,” he said.

Acknowledging that Guyana is not alone, the FITUG official praised President Dr Mohamed Irfaan Ali, Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo and Prime Minister Mark Phillips and others in government for their “proactive efforts” to cushion the effects and bring about relief to Guyana’s workers. “We appreciate policies to maintain water and electricity rates, zero-rating of fuel, and adjustments to the import duty regime. We have seen too the efforts to enhance disposable income and provide additional benefits. These are welcomed but the situation, for workers at the bottom, remains challenging,” said Mr Narine who is a governing People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPPC) parliamentarian. His Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU), which is a FITUG affiliate, is also closely aligned to the PPPC.

Mr Narine called on the National Tripartite Committee to begin discussions to arrive at a “livable wage” for local workers. “Given our economic trajectory our call is justifiable, and we are open to engage in constructive dialogue to arrive at pay levels which are reasonable in the context of our development,” he said. The long-serving trade unionist said such talks should also advance an all-encompassing social pact addressing retirement and retirement benefits, safety and health, working hours, and labour productivity, to name a few.

Despite repeated talk by the Ministry of Labour that an International Labour Organisation (ILO) consultant had assisted in revising Guyana’s Occupational Safety and Health Act especially to cater for the oil and gas sector, nothing has been presented to the National Assembly. In that regard, the FITUG official demanded that that law be overhauled. “The last major revision took place towards in the latter part of the 1990s. Since then, we have not promulgated any new legislation or pursued substantive amendments. We all recognize several changes took place since and new forms of employment have now emerged. In many instances those workers are minimally protected if at all. We believe it is time for a comprehensive evaluation of our labour legislations to rebalance the owner-worker relationship,” he said.

FITUG said evidence shows that both workers and employer were having a “lax attitude” towards occupational safety and health, a situation that union body said required social partners to advance a safety and health culture. “Too often workers are not given protective equipment and in other instances when given, workers do not utilize them,” Mr Narine said.

Earlier this year, a heavy duty machine operator was crushed and buried after the vehicle toppled into a bauxite mining pit.