Workers' pay increase - a non-issue Editorial
Guyana Chronicle
December 8, 2003

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THE decision reached by the Government to increase the pay of public servants by 5 percent, effective January 1st, has been received with mixed feelings.

Workers, acknowledging that the nation's depressed economy doesn't allow for a pay rise bonanza, are happy that they are getting anything at all - and for Christmas at that.

Anti-government skeptics, ignoring Government's constraint to tie pay to economic performance, basically reject the percentage increase as being "unrealistically low."

But amid the for-and-against arguments, plus the hackneyed claim by some trade unions that the government has been dragging its feet on the pay-rise issue, or that the Government doesn't care about the welfare of the country's workers, the across-the-board pay rise offer couldn't come sooner for most employees.

Despite their many misconceptions about trade unions, employers and workers alike appreciate that one of the central functions of a trade union is lobbying Government and other decision makers to ensure the best possible deal for working people.

But workers display little patience for foot-dragging or for any impasse that emerges after exhausting negotiations by trade unions bargaining on their behalf.

The contention in some quarters that attributes the migration of teachers to the 5 percent increase pay offer to teachers doesn't hold. The history of worker migration and Guyana's own experience indicate that income level isn't the only factor that determines the turnover rate of teachers.

Besides, the payout by Government of an interim package of $302 million to public servants in 1999, pending the pay award of an arbitration panel, offers a welcome precedence for paying workers ahead of a formal agreement between Government and union.

Government has basically ignored the recommendations of international donor institutions for pay increase to be tied to performance.

In his essay, Why Merit Pay Will Improve Teaching, Steven Malanga had this to say: "One of the bitterest controversies in today's school-reform debate is merit pay-rewarding teachers not for seniority and the number of ed-school credits they've piled up, as public schools have done since the early 1920s, but for what they actually achieve in the classroom. Education reformers argue that merit pay will give encouragement to good teachers and drive away bad ones, and thus improve under-performing public schools. But most teachers' unions adamantly oppose the idea. We don't have reliable means to measure a teacher's classroom performance, the unions charge, so merit plans will inevitably result in supervisor bias and favoritism: "Just too many cliques in the system," one teacher typically complains in a recent survey."

And one Araven wrote in September ( thus: "It seems to me that in an economy with insufficient production to meet the needs of members of the society, wages are embedded in the free market as a great way to motivate people to work hard, and to divide the resources with a weight toward the people who produce them. Likewise, it serves an almost evolutionary function, since those who work are likely (either due to environment or genes or both) to raise children who will do the same. So, in other words, if some people are bound to starve, shouldn't it be the ones who are not contributing to production? That's a difficult question to answer, of course, and maybe the answer is "no." But for now, I'm going to pretend the answer is "yes."

None of the above denies that teachers, like people of every other category of work, should receive higher incomes and better working conditions. Employee discontent usually manifests when incomes do not regularly increase to acceptable levels, with or without union intervention.

We are happy that workers will get their increases for Christmas and hope that outstanding negotiations will conclude on a mutually satisfactory note.