Last Updated on Wednesday, 23 August 2023, 21:55 by Denis Chabrol
President Irfaan Ali on Wednesday said government has taken a reasonable decision to hire workers on contract, in an apparent strong rebuke of an international trade unionist who advised against the employment of workers contractually.
In her feature address to the opening of the 22nd delegates’ congress of the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU), General Secretary of the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations (IUF) Sue Longley said she was made aware of a push-back on workers’ rights through direct repression or more subtle actions such as contract workers.
“I heard in the past couple of days here in Guyana about the impact of increasing use of contract labour, short-term precarious contracts and how these undermine us as trade unions, how they make it harder for us to recruit organised workers into unions so organising, building membership has to be a global priority,” she said.
The Guyana Public Service Union, Guyana Trades Union Congress and GAWU had in the past called for an end to contract workers especially in the public sector.
Referring to the “rise of the right,” Ms Longley said if trade unions were not strong at workplaces, workers could not be defended and advance their rights.
But President Ali minutes later said the Guyana government was learning from best and worst practices while at the same time adopting those, such as employing contract workers, that are “good for us.”
He cited the situation in which Guyana increased nurses’ salaries by as much as 100 percent for some levels, health workers here and the rest of the Caribbean were being hired by the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States because “there is a massive global shortage of nurses and people are not entering the profession.”
“We have to find contract workers too. We have to talk to friends who will help us and send 3,4,500 nurses or the health care system collapses. We have to deal with realities. Policymakers and governments must deal with realities. The reality of the country that we live in today is that we are short of labour. Every single day the contractors come to me and say they can’t find workers,” he said.
The IUF General Secretary, in turning her attention to Guyana’s oil sector, said workers could only benefit maximally if they are unionised. “For us, as trade unions, the best way to ensure this is through workers being organised into unions to bargain fair wages and condition so we welcome the g0vernment’s commitments to the trade union movement,” she said.
First Vice President of Jamaica’s University and Allied Workers’ Union (UAWU) and IUF Regional Secretary, Clifton Grant also echoed the need for workers to benefit from the oil sector. “Having found that fortune, we are saying not only capital should benefit from this fortune but the working class should also benefit and benefit significantly because without the working class nothing would happen,” he said.
The Guyanese President said Guyanese sugar workers, fisherfolk, school children, public servants and members of the security forces have received billions of dollars in cash grants and other payouts over the past three years.
Opposition Leader Aubrey Norton has been calling for an increase in wages and salaries to ease the impact of inflation. He has promised that if the opposition wins the 2025 general and regional elections, Guyanese will benefit from a number of social programmes and support for business initiatives.