Tax structure, rising utility tariffs punishing workers -Lewis By Andrew Richards
Stabroek News
May 2, 2002

Related Links: Articles on labor
Letters Menu Archival Menu

Workers in Guyana have been turned into beasts of burden by the current tax structure and the climbing cost of utility services, Guyana Trades Union Congress' (GTUC) general secretary, Lincoln Lewis says.

Addressing workers at the GTUC May Day rally at the National Park yesterday, Lewis also castigated those who he said were attempting to fuel divisions within the trades union movement.

The issue of disunity was also addressed by GTUC president, Carvil Duncan, and general secretary of the Caribbean Congress of Labour (CCL), George De Peana.

Lewis declared that the socio-economic and political situation in Guyana was having an adverse effect on the workers.

"Workers are painfully realising more and more each day that they are being used as the sacrificial lamb to either jump start the economy or stabilise the dollar," he stated.

The GTUC general secretary, who is also the president of CCL, alluded to the income tax system based on a regime which has been frozen for four years at a free pay of $18,000 per month.

He recalled when the system was introduced the free pay threshold was three times the minimum wage in the public service. The current minimum wage is $20,450 which means that every worker has to pay income tax.

"We have witnessed several calls for an improvement on what currently exists but it appears that the calls are made to the deaf, since our government continue to ignore these voices and seek to make promises that are far-fetched," he said.

Lewis noted that workers paid $7.2 billion in the year 2000 while companies contributed $7.2 billion. In 2001, Pay As You Earn (PAYE) was $7.8 billion while companies paid $7.5 billion.

Lewis said PAYE was forecast to be $8.2 billion this year while the contribution by companies would account for $7.9 billion.

He referred to President Bharrat Jagdeo's reason for not increasing the threshold that $136 million would be lost for every increase of $1,000 and pointed out that duty-free concessions granted to businesses exceeded $19 billion last year.

"The GTUC takes the position that the administration needs to urgently address the threshold to reflect 1.5 times the pay in the public service, which shall reflect a $30,000 minimum," he stated.

He urged that there be a restoration of allowances for spouses, children, education and mortgage interest.

Lewis railed against the 60% increase in electricity charges over the period 2000 to 2002 which he said kept increasing and described the privatisation deal for the power company as a major embarrassment to the nation. CDC/ESBI controlled the management of the new company and the foreign team earned $800 million in fees every year. Lewis charged that government gave the company $3.3 billion in subsidies in the years 2000 and 2001, increasing the burden on the taxpayers.

He added that government boasted there were no new taxes in the 2002 national budget but he pointed to the increase in electricity charges and the hiking of water rates by 27%.

Lewis called for the placing of the Guyana Water Authority under the control of the Public Utilities Commission so that the entity could be regulated.

He said the GTUC welcomed the concessions given to the sugar industry and rice farmers but emphasised that the same generosity should be extended to other workers.

The GTUC general secretary stated that while the labour movement searched for common ground the Guy-ana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) continued to hold a separate rally and President Jagdeo sent his regrets to the GTUC's invitation to its May Day rally.

GAWU marched with the GTUC yesterday but diverted to the National Insurance Scheme ground for its rally. GAWU and the National Association of Agricultural, Commercial and Industrial Employees (NAACIE) have suspended their ties with the GTUC alleging undemocratic practices and a lack of transparency among other grouses.

Lewis noted that the President was scheduled to attend GAWU's function yesterday and pointed out that it was the head of state who accused the GTUC of playing politics.

"Isn't the head of state's action confirming the opinion that his government fuels the seeds of division in the movement?" he asked. "Is he the head of state of one specific group of workers?"

Lewis said the GTUC would be informing CARICOM heads of government, the labour movement internationally and donor countries of the situation because "something is not right in this country."

Duncan, in his address, said when he assumed the GTUC presidency in September last year, his vision was to have the labour movement move forward to progress and prosperity for the workers.

He said he was convinced there was hope for Guyana but this sentiment has since changed.

Duncan noted that GAWU was given the opportunity to participate in the May Day rally but the invitation was refused. He acknowledged the presence of the Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU) at the rally and pledged the GTUC's support in the union's fight for arbitration into the 2001 public servants wages dispute. GAWU and NAACIE also boycotted the GTUC rally last year.

The GPSU held a separate rally in 2000 but had marched under the GTUC banner.

Duncan announced that the GTUC has established a committee to deal specifically with the two breakaway unions.

He expressed confidence that the matter would be resolved as soon as dialogue commenced since the issues surrounding the impasse were mostly ironed out.

De Peana, in his remarks, said the disunity in the trade union movement was evident with the holding of a separate rally by GAWU. He called for all to work for the movement to be strengthened for, he said, the challenges being faced in the new era of globalisation could only be overcome collectively.

He pointed out that globalisation produced a harsh economic situation in which developing countries like Guyana paid a tremendous price.

De Peana noted President Jagdeo's statement in his May Day message that there should an end to industrial relations disputes but the CCL general secretary also raised the question of the cost factor.

He described the Ministry of Labour as the fire-fighter of industrial relations and called for the strengthening of the Ministry of Labour so that it could be empowered to effectively carry out its mandate. Among those attending the GTUC rally were Leader of the Opposition, Desmond Hoyte; Chief Labour Officer, Mohamed Akeel; Mayor Hamilton Green; and Leader of the Justice for All Party, C.N. Sharma.