5% pay rise tied to country's economic reality
--- Cabinet Secretary Luncheon by Wendella Davidson
Guyana Chronicle
December 6, 2003

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THE decision by the Guyana Government to implement a five percent increase across the board to public servants, retroactive from January 1, is rooted in the country's economic reality, and configured to support a policy decision of the PPP/C administration.

The payout, described as timely as any further delay could have created an embarrassment, Head of the Presidential Secretariat, Dr Roger Luncheon said, is also in response to the "clambering" by public servants for a pay increase before the yearend.

At a news briefing, at which Permanent Secretary in the Public Service Ministry (PSM), N.K. Gopaul was present, and called to justify the Government's decision, Dr. Luncheon pointed out that the economy "did not perform over the period ", and as a result inflation remaining in single digit.

Those categories to benefit from the payout include the traditional public servant, contract employees in state, subvention and semi-autonomous agencies; all categories of teachers, trained and untrained, as well as members of the disciplined forces - Army, Police, Prisons and Fire.

Dr Luncheon pointed out that should a higher increase be paid out then, the government would have had to resort to borrowing money to meet such a commitment.

And in emphasing the PPP/C's policy that "real wages in any period must not be eroded", Dr Luncheon said the payout represents a fullfulling of that undertaking, and too, is in respect of the financial and economic situation of the country.

The HPS further contended that the records would show the performance of the economy, noting that the offer in respect to public servants and teachers, is an increase on what was on the table.

Government, he added, has over the year faithfully kept its promise to public workers.

Dr Gopaul, meanwhile, blamed the Guyana Public Service Union for the situation, which prevailed, claiming it was the Government, through the Public Service Management that took the initiative on November 25, 2002 and wrote inviting the GPSU to commence negotiations for the period 2003-2005.

The letter also proposed that the discussions should begin January 6, 2003.

But according to Gopaul, the PSM after some lapse agreed for the negotiations to begin on June 6, following which five meetings were had at the bilateral level, with the final one being on September 24, 2003.

It was at the latter meeting that it was agreed by the parties that no useful purpose would be served by continuing negotiations, which were at a deadlock.

He said the Ministry of Labour was then brought into the fray and conciliation discussions began on October 2, 2003, but at the second meeting called on October 15, the Union indicated its intention to skip the conciliation stage and move to arbitration.

The union's used as its basis that President Jagdeo had made a prejudicial statement on wage increase, which address the opening of a trade union seminar.

Dr Gopaul said, he explained to the Union that the statement could not be viewed as prejudicial, as Dr Jagdeo was merely speaking and giving examples as to what are the realities, but they insisted on the arbitration process.

But at a news conference the GPSU called yesterday afternoon, President, Mr Patrick Yarde called the Government's action "high handed", "unlawful" "unprincipled" and a deliberate conspiracy to frustrate the process and hold people at ransom.

He contended that for three years the Government has resorted to imposing conditions of service, rather than abide with the laws as contained in the constitution, and also the laws of the International Convention.

Yarde, who added that the Government seems afraid to go to arbitration, pointed out that the rule of law as it relates to collective bargaining in the ILO convention, to which Guyana is a party, states that where a dispute exists, there should either be conciliation or arbitration.

Such a process calls for someone negotiating not bullying, tactics reminiscent of the 60s, in 1994 and again in 1997.

Public servants, he charged, need a living wage and not handouts as the Government has been doling out, and such a situation cannot be allowed to continue.

Consultant with the GPSU, veteran Trade Unionist Mr Leslie Melville responding to the Government's claim that the economy did not perform, said that was so because the Government has not been able to create a suitable environment.

He too accused the Government of reneging on its commitment.

Reading from a prepared statement at the news conference, GPSU third Vice President, Karen Van Sluytman said the Union was prepared to go through the rounds of arbitration.

But, it was Dr Gopaul, in "an act of deceit, bordering on dishonesty", had on December 3 informed the Chief Labour Officer (CLO) and the GPSU that his ministry "had decided not to put the dispute over increases in salaries, wages and allowances to arbitration in keeping with Article Q7 - General Policy of Public Service Rules and Memorandum of Agreement between the Government and the Federated union of Government Employees, she added.