Are we on the road to building a society that allows for inclusive prosperity for all?
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Sase Singh
Sase Singh

By Sase Singh in Washington, DC

SUCCESSFUL emerging economies have a thriving working class with clear ambitions to migrate to the middle class. But this process becomes very challenging if a fair and caring Government is not in place. Over the last decade the workers mainly saw 5 percent increases in their pay packets, although the reported economic growth rates were assigned a higher percentage.

What must we conclude from this situation? Was this an act on the part of the Jagdeo-led Economics Team to distort distribution of the patrimony of the State? Were the workers being deliberately starved to build the mansions?

2015 Budget – 17 % from 3%

In an economy that is not expected to grow by more than 3 percent in 2015, the Granger/Nagamootoo Administration saw it fit to offer a 17 percent wage increase for those at the bottom of the pay scales. No full-time worker in Guyana should be working for less than Gy$50,000 per month, thanks to this 2015 Budget. So, this wage-offering is a commendable output, although it is highly risky since it is using “stock funds” to finance a “flow expenditure.”

However, if there was ever a time that the workers needed a break and a historical injustice needed to be corrected, it was 2015. This wage- offering in the 2015 Budget was the right decision and a calculated risk worth taking. But now that this is done, we need to urgently put in place economic policies to prevent a further march to a “flat-line” in the economy.

The last time the workers at the bottom of the pay scale saw such a massive increase in their wages was in the year 2000. In that year, the Armstrong Tribunal awarded a wage increase of 26.7% and the Jagdeo Government honoured the decision. However, since 2000 it appeared as if there was a season of “starvation wages for the workers,” although we can constantly hear that there were nine years of robust economic growth. Economic growth for whom, one may ask? The benefits from all those years of economic growth have flowed disproportionately to the owners of high-end wealth, especially those with close alliance with the PPP rulers at that time.

The Granger/Nagamootoo Administration has made the first move in building this relationship with the workers. My only regret on these salary- offerings is that we did not deliver on our promise to the police – at minimum, a police constable deserves Gy$60,000 per month.

WHAT’S NEXT?
It is time for all of us to enhance productivity in the public service. We have to train and re-train our public servants to work smarter. The productivity level in the public service does have a direct impact on economic growth and the ball is now in the court of the public servants to add their efforts to this national project.

So while the workers are reflecting on their productivity and doing something about it, the Government has a duty to roll out their public policies that are geared towards “cranking up” the economy to sustain this financial “pass through” to the workers. The onus is on both the Government and the workers to become more productive in an alliance with the business class (with their innovation) to drive this economy.

But the organisations that have the biggest responsibility going forward are the trade unions. They have dropped the ball in the past but they have been given a new lease of life in this 2015 Budget. They have to use the new energy that has been injected into the working class to strengthen their position in the ensuing debate on how to make the public service more productive, so that they can leverage better wages. With rights comes responsibility; with salary increases comes an expectation of greater efficiency in output from public servants.

It was no less a person than the Minister of State who announced that a “Commission of Enquiry has been appointed to examine wages and working conditions” and the Government shall be “honouring its commitment to collective bargaining” with the unions. The financial books shall be opened to the workers’ representatives for interrogation and this is a good thing. The unions must use this opportunity to bring back fairness to the process in time for the 2016 Budget. It is time for them to start engaging experts like Yog Mahadeo (former advisor to GAWU) to help them better understand these numbers. This is a revolutionary development for the workers and this gain must never be lost again.

But the workers must be forewarned that we have a new normal in Guyana as a result of weaknesses in all of the traditional economic drivers, especially sugar and gold. Again I say, the Government Information Agency (GINA) continues to struggle at getting out the real message on the state of the productive sectors so that the nation can better understand what really is going on.

Simple messaging such as “in 2015, there was half-year growth of 0.9 percent, but yet the Government found 17 percent for the workers have not been communicated to the people of Guyana.” In the old GINA, that message would have been on every dinner table across Guyana.

LEADERSHIP & TRAINING
Now on to phase two – leadership from both sides (unions and Government) must be complemented by heavy dosages of learning conducted by the now revamped Public Service Staff College. Let us bring these trade union bodies (both FITUG and TUC) into the game as genuine developmental partners. They have a major role to play on packaging the message to the workers – “let us train more, let us work smarter, let us pay more, let us cooperate and let us deliver betterment for Guyana.”

The chips are now in the workers’ corner, they now have to enhance their productivity. Further significant wage increases are not going to happen magically. It will be based on performance of the economy and workers have a major role to play in that performance. In an environment where the half-year growth rate for 2015 was 0.9 percent, 17 percent pay rises in 2016 will be a struggle.

PROTECTING THE GAINS
The year 2015 has seen some critical developments towards protecting the gains of the working class. We saw the subvention being returned to the main trade union bodies (both FITUG and TUC); we saw the Critchlow Labour College also securing its subvention; and we saw the inclusion of the largest workers’ union (GAWU) on the Commission of Inquiry and Board at GuySuCo. If he were alive, former President Dr. Cheddi Jagan would have been very proud of this Granger/Nagamootoo Government for making these important, progressive steps for the working class.

These gains must be protected. That means there must be a clear path of social mobility for any young person who is successful at joining the public service. The composition of the public service is extremely important going forward; how we recruit, how we promote, how we train are extremely important for national unity in this country. No more must people be seen as Burnham’s boy or Jagdeo’s boy, but they must be a routine strategy to help manage talent and ensure that there is equal opportunity for all. Our public service by and large must reflect the ethnic, demographic and gender make-up of our society.

CONCLUSION
We all have a role to play in this evolution and it is important that politicians mean what they say. The top leadership of the Granger/Nagamootoo Administration made it absolutely clear that anyone who found their name on a party list shall not be eligible for a position as a Head of Department, be it a Permanent Secretary, a Regional Executive Officer, a Head of a State Agency or a Head of a Corporation. I am disappointed to note that there are several persons who were on the political platform and were either on the national and regional list and currently occupy top civil service jobs. This anomaly has to be addressed irrespective of which party we support. We must have the strength of conviction to do the right thing.

The next time I shall be continuing our conversation by sharing my views on the Need for Genuine Investments in 2015 and beyond. (Readers can contact this columnist via email at: sasesin1@yahoo.com)

The year 2015 has seen some critical developments towards protecting the gains of the working class. We saw the subvention being returned to the main trade union bodies (both FITUG and TUC); we saw the Critchlow Labour College also securing its subvention; and we saw the inclusion of the largest workers’ union (GAWU) on the Commission of Inquiry and Board at GuySuCo. If he were alive, former President Dr. Cheddi Jagan would have been very proud of this Granger/Nagamootoo Government for making these important, progressive steps for the working class.

 

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