Burnham intervened to set a minimum wage
Stabroek News
December 31, 2001

Dear Editor,

It is indeed unbelievable but true. A friend of mine gave me an old newspaper clipping from the Saturday Chronicle of November 10, 1984.

It is headed 'President Burnham intervenes/New Interim Minimum Wage set.' From that article I learnt that the new interim minimum wage took the daily wage to $15.10 while the new monthly minimum became $360.

I learnt also that workers in the bauxite and sugar industries benefited and that out of concern for the bulk of the workforce the back pay to workers who earned less than $600 per month, that is the bulk of workers, would be tax free.

Mr Burnham said that he decided to intervene as President because he was disturbed by the "foot dragging" which had taken place. His intervention was made "without prejudice" to ongoing talks between the government and the TUC. The payout which was calculated to cost the government between 75 and 80 million dollars was scheduled to start not later than November 30 and conclude by December 14 when the People's National Congress marked its 20th anniversary in government.

The TUC meanwhile was negotiating for a $25 per day minimum wage but Cde Burnham explained that this would cost the government $639 million which it could not afford then.

Mr Burnham at the time of making these declarations was delivering a speech to delegates and invitees at the 16th Biennial Conference of Guyana's oldest trade union, the Guyana Labour Union of which he was President General.

In the same speech he undertook to make several basic consumer items more readily available. He added that some items seized by the police would be put on sale at government agencies.

We will remember that these were the days of banned basic items such as flour, split peas, sardines and other tinned items and it was illegal to have them as you could be charged. The police were empowered to seize these items. Most of us had become criminals at that time.

The GPSU and other government affiliated unions did not call any strikes or indulge in any protest actions. It was their party in power and they did not call in the Public Service International (PSI).

Yours faithfully,

John Da Silva