The main opposition APNU+AFC has said public servants deserve better than the 7% across-the-board pay hike announced by the government.
“They deserve better and in comparison, they got better under the APNU+AFC administration,” the coalition said in a statement issued in reaction to the announcement.
The coalition highlighted that Guyanese are currently facing a 14% increase in food prices, resulting in a significant reduction in their standard of living. “In many homes at least one income earner has lost their job over the last year further reducing the spending capacity of families. The President recently informed the nation that the situation will worsen over the next year and the PPP’s solution to this horrible economic climate is a 7% increase for public servants,” it lamented.
APNU+AFC further noted that any reference to the government’s one-off cash grants over the past months is no more than a weak attempt to justify the inadequate increase.
In comparison, it said, after just 18 months in office from July 1, 2015 to January 1 2017, the APNU+AFC increased the minimum wage by over 50%, increased the income tax threshold by 20%, reduced the marginal income tax rate to 28% and removed the tax from employees’ contribution to the National Insurance Scheme (NIS). In addition, it said the old-age pension increased by 45% and public assistance by 27%. Further the marginal rate of income tax for non-commercial companies was reduced from 30% to 27.5%. All of this, it added, was done without the then government receiving one dollar in oil revenues.
APNU+AFC also highlighted that while in government it consistently ensured that senior public servants were awarded a lower percentage increase than junior public servants, thereby ensuring that the income gap would reduce overtime. “The PPP’s single rate across-the-board increase is intended to widen the gap between those who have much and those who have little,” it, however, said.
Minister of Finance Dr Ashni Singh on Thursday announced the 7% increase for public servants, teachers, members of the Disciplined Services, constitutional office holders, as well as government pensioners.
The increase, which will not be tax free, will be retroactive to January 1, 2021 and will be paid with salaries for the month of December. In addition, Singh also announced that frontline workers in the health sector are expected to benefit from a $400 million special payout for this year. Meanwhile, the Working People’s Alliance (WPA) on Friday called the increase “scandalous,” while also decrying its failure to engage with the workers’ unions. “The continued refusal to meet with the unions to discuss their proposed demands has further tarnished Guyana’s image as country committed to the primacy of labor as a factor in national development. Further, it is a betrayal of the PPP’s own historical commitment to the working class,” the party said in a statement.
According to the WPA, given the fact that workers’ wages have not been increased since 2019 and the fact that prices of food and other essential items have since risen astronomically, a 7% increase amounts to little or no real increase in wages. When one adds taxation to the mix, it added, the real value of the proposed increase is further diminished. “What is a 7 percent increase in wages against the backdrop of a fourteen percent increase in food costs? Any head of household will tell you that that amounts to negative growth in earnings,” it said.
The WPA said the government should modify the current proposal in the shortest term, call the unions to an emergency meeting and work on a consensus ‘Christmas” package that should among other things increase the offer, remove the taxes and make it retroactive to 2019. However, it said this should not be a substitute for a real wage package. “Hence agreement on this relief package should be tied to immediate talks on a structured wage package with the unions,” it said. The party also proposed doubling the grant to the frontline workers and argued that failure to move in this direction would open the door to workers’ action, which it strongly supports.
The party also said if the government is serious about real relief for working people, it should cease the unstructured, discriminatory and unaccountable manner that it has employed and instead engage stakeholders in a serious Cash Transfer policy. “Our party stands ready to engage the government, trade unions, other political parties and related interests in beginning such a process,” it added.