Points to ponder

Guyana Chronicle
June 25, 1999

NOW that the strike in the public service is over, and behind us, we should do a re-evaluation of relations in the society, and make conscious efforts to improve them.

Firstly, there should be greater goodwill between the Government of the day and the trade unions, especially the public service union.

We agree with Mr. Ron Webster, the head of the civil society mediation team, that what was lacking in the negotiations between the parties was trust. There is no need for the state employer and its employees to harbour suspicions.

During his presidency, the late Dr. Cheddi Jagan often spoke about a social compact between government and labour, and a partnership between labour and capital. We need to return to that pact, and to give it new life.

This means that an urgent campaign should be started to explain fully with all state employees and their unions the Government's programmes and policies, and where they fit into them, in order to improve their standing, both financially and materially.

The public servants also need to see the bigger picture of what is needed for the prosperity of the entire nation.

Secondly, the trade union movement must declare its independence from hostile political interests. These could run the risk of undermining national security under the cover of trade union disputes.

It is clear from the last strike that the interests of some opposition politicians and those of union leaders did not exactly coincide. The former wanted to exploit the latter for selfish ends.

Thirdly, both the Government and the unions must have a realistic appraisal of their own bargaining positions. If the three per cent pay hike initially offered was too little, then the 40 per cent demanded by the union was too much.

Where is the middle ground?

The initial offer had provoked the anger of even well-meaning public servants, not remotely hostile to this elected government. It was viewed as eye-pass, even if we concede that the Government was out to protect over-spending and keep its foreign-funded programmes intact.

Even talking and explaining was not done before the pay increase was announced.

But when the main union started to feed its members on a daily diet of over-expectation, they were bound to get high on it. We saw what happened: extremist elements would not come down from the 40 per cent.

It was Dr. Anwar Hussein, Vice-President of the Guyana Public Service Union, who put it acidly: those members were riding a tiger and they didn't know how to dismount.

Fifthly, rules should now be worked out that in any industrial dispute that requires public demonstrations, those should be directed away from Regent Street and other busy commercial areas in Georgetown.

Business should not suffer when there is labour or political dispute. Take the marches to the public squares.

And lastly, the fragility of our ethnic relations should require us to re-think public action that would clearly show up this division.

It was clear, according to Mr. Patrick Yarde, that Indo-Guyanese did not join the marches. There was a perception that even if they had joined the strike they could have done so out of fear of racial attacks.

We mention these points for re-examination because we believe it would help us to realise how complex our society is, and that we should not be too hasty to rush into precipitate actions.

Above all, the national interest would require that we think first before we act. And if we have to act, let it be with great responsibility and tolerance for the wider society.

As Martin Carter once said: "All are involved, all are consumed."


Day 1 - Signing of agreement

Day 6 - Full resumption of work

Day 10 - Appointment of tribunal

Day 70 - Submission of arbitration award

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Guyana: Land of Six Peoples