WPA Statement to the Media
November 19, 2021
WPA condemns the government for having the temerity to offer public servants a meagre 7% increase on their already unlivable wages. Only a government that is contemptuous of the workers could offer such a scandalous package to a section of the labor force that is charged with managing government institutions, protecting the nation, providing healthcare and educating our children among other critical tasks.
In the first place, the government continues the illegal practice of ignoring its collective bargaining responsibilities and imposing a wage package without agreement 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.
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 percent increase amounts to little or no real increase in wages. When one adds taxation to the mix, 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.
For all intents and purposes this is not a salary increase—it is yet another cash giveaway, But, when one takes into consideration the government’s announced package of $250, 000 to each sugar worker, this offer to another critical section of the workforce represents a tiny fraction of the former. Making the 7 percent retroactive to January 2021 offers little or no comfort. For example, 7percent of an entry-level policewoman’s salary of approximately $65, 000 amounts to a miserly $55, 000 for all of 2021. Further, whereas the price tag for the payout to the sugar workers is $1.7B, the government offers $400M to frontline workers.
Whether it is the government’s intention or not, the comparison of the two payouts suggests clear discrimination on the part of the government. WPA has long called on governments to be mindful of the ethnic impact of policies and actions in a country which is sharply divided along ethnic lines. Against that background WPA characterizes this latest PPP intervention as yet another political provocation. WPA is not opposed to relief for sugar workers. Rather it is staunchly opposed to the discriminatory and unstructured manner in which government has been distributing resources.
WPA takes this opportunity to remind Guyanese of its Cash Transfer proposal that is on the table. 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. WPA’s proposal is for a transfer to all households regardless of ethnicity. Our party stands ready to engage the government, trade unions, other political parties and related interests in beginning such a process.
For now, WPA believes the government in the shortest term should modify the current proposal. It should 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 the last salary increase (2019). But 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. WPA also proposes doubling the grant to the Frontline Workers as a matter of fairness. Failure to move in this direction would open the door to workers’ action—a move that the WPA strongly supports. The right to a living wage is linked to the right to life—a sacred human right.