THERE is a lot of weeping and gnashing of teeth on the Opposition side over the recently-announced salary hike for public servants. It never stops. The PPP’s dislike for public servants is well documented. That party never loses an opportunity to malign and marginalise these workers. It has played a central role in ensuring that public servants’ wages are stagnated, so it is not surprising that they have responded in such a negative way to the announcement of a salary hike.
Mr. Jagdeo has denied reports that he threatened that should the PPP be returned to power, workers who accept the increases would be sanctioned. But more dangerously, he is trying to scare the workers by announcing that government intends to fire thousands of them in exchange for the increases. This is a cowardly piece of cheap propaganda that is so reminiscent of a party that is in panic mode. There is absolutely no truth in this charge, and the PPP knows it. That Jagdeo can only offer his “suspicions” as evidence of this charge speaks for itself.
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But the PPP has not stopped there. The party and its cohorts have whipped out the race card. They charge the government with favouring public servants and discriminating against sugar workers. Why make such a charge? This is yet another instance of nasty race politics by those who are bent on exploiting ethnic insecurity for political gain. That the PPP, when in government, has waged war against public servants is more than a minor tragedy. One goes back to the story of the 1957-64 PPP government’s callous treatment of these workers that triggered the infamous 80-day strike.
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When the PPP returned to office in 1992, it resumed its crusade against the public servants. Again, the workers had to resort to industrial action in 1999. This time the matter went to arbitration, which was duly won by the workers. But true to form, the PPP government never fully honoured the agreement. The PPP’s disdain for public servants is rooted in that party’s narrow view of Guyana’s ethnic tapestry. They view public servants as their political enemies.
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All Guyanese of goodwill, including PPP supporters, must condemn this attempt by the PPP to whip up racial tension. Pitting public servants against sugar workers would only serve the PPP’s narrow partisan interests. In the end, our country would be torn apart. Notwithstanding the PPP’s antics, the government must be commended for making right by public servants. This is a category of the workforce that has had to struggle against successive governments for a living wage. It is well known that their wages lag behind those of workers in other areas of the economy. There are those in the trade union fraternity who continue to be critical of the manner in which the government has gone about instituting the increases. That is a matter that must be ironed out between the two sides. Collective bargaining is a sacred right which should always be heeded.
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But there can be no doubt that the workers have good cause to be happy. Since coming to power, the government has raised the minimum wage from $39, 540 to $70, 000 or 77%. In the context of the wider Guyanese economy, that is a significant increase. When one takes into consideration that this was achieved in the four short years, the significance is enhanced. It reflects a concerned administration that cares about the plight of workers. Public servants would obviously see this development as a bright light as they press on. Public servants are essential workers; they turn the wheels of government. They provide essential services to the society that we take for granted. Without them, the most vital institution in the country would collapse. So, like all workers, they deserve adequate compensation. The government has recognised this truth and, in the process, it has honoured yet another of its promises.