– says MP Narine, differs with MP McDonald on focus of budget
By Tamica Garnett
VETERAN trade unionist, General Secretary of the Guyana Teachers’ Union (GTU), Coretta McDonald, and General-Secretary for the Guyana Agricultural Workers Union (GAWU), Seepaul Narine, clashed in the National Assembly on Monday during the 2020 Budget debates.
Nonetheless, with their assigned 15 minutes apiece, the two back benchers gave good accounts of themselves and both touched on pertinent issues, with emphasis of situations relating to workers.
Representing the APNU+AFC, McDonald lobbied for the establishment of a Labour Code Commission; for greater remuneration for regional councillors and state board directors; for the issues of debauching and merit increments to be addressed, and called for affirmative action to ensure racial equity in the employment market.
“Consideration must be given for the allocation and strengthening the laws in the areas of Occupational Health and Safety, Trade Union Recognition and workers education,” McDonald offered.
Arguing against the budget, McDonald echoed the Opposition’s argument that the budget is private sector-friendly and not people-centred.
However, immediately following her, and representing the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) on the government side, Narine described the budget as a “poor people progressive budget, with significant attention to lifting our people, while building a better and stronger Guyana for our children”.
Noting that taxes increased by $91 million under the APNU+AFC, Narine described that action as “punishment for the Guyanese people”, brought on by the APNU+AFC.
“Budget 2020 marks the first step in the journey to reverse the vampire-like policies that plagued our nation over the last five years when the coalition spared no one except themselves. We are told budget doesn’t have anything for the ordinary people…. It is a marked departure from the budgets we’ve had in the past five years when Guyanese feared what next would be taken away from them,” Narine asserted.
Coming out swinging, Narine opened with a jab at McDonald, reminding her that it was under the PPP/C that teachers were always afforded an audience with the Ministry of Education (MoE), while it was under the APNU+AFC that the GTU was hindered in their fight to create a new Collective Labour Agreement with the government of the day.
“Under the previous PPP/C Government the GTU was able to have agreements after agreements, as compared to the APNU+AFC when teachers stood up what were they told: greedy, selfish. What a shame,” Narine expressed.
It was in 2018 that the GTU had to resort to strike action to get the MoE to come with a better offer in salary and benefits negotiations. Then Minister with Responsibility for Labour, Keith Scott, called the teachers uncaring and selfish, though he later apologised for the damage done.
Narine further described it as appalling that it was under the APNU+AFC the Trade Union Recognition Board has not been functioning for many months now.
When McDonald called on the PPP/C Government side to ensure that the private sector minimum wage is increased to $60,000, Narine later reminded that it was the APNU+AFC Government that failed to see the negotiations to completion when the process was started last year.
LACK OF SAFETY NET
Narine called for the Opposition to account for the job loss that took place under its watch, starting with the lack of a safety net being put in place, when they closed the sugar estates and left thousands on the breadline.
“Over 7,000 sugar workers in the midst of a yuletide Christmas season were put on the breadline in the hardest retrenchment exercise in post-Independence Guyana. What kind of leader puts thousands out of work with no plan to deal with the fall out? Don’t they have any compassion for those workers and their families? They were least concerned how these Guyanese citizens would eat, send their children to school or pay their bills,” Narine questioned
“This is a budget of hope for all Guyanese where we will see our nation’s prosperity benefitting all and not just a few as we saw during the coalition government,” Narine established.
On the issue of regional councils and State boards, McDonald argued that such persons must be suitably remunerated fitting of their positions and works that they need to carry out.
“RDCs and State boards are required to carry out statutory obligations, [yet] 90 per cent of these persons are not executive officers. Time has come for us to address these persons; they must be appropriately quantified and remunerated. I urge consideration be given to regional councillors and non-executive directors of State companies for incentives and other forms of remuneration,” McDonald said.
There are 205 regional councillor seats assigned across the 10 administrative regions in Guyana, with each councillor currently being paid a stipend of $10,000 per month.
Over the years, regional councillors have continually lobbied for their stipends to be increased, arguing that the remuneration is insufficient, given that their workload spans an entire region.