THE government has committed itself to ensuring a stable industrial relations climate and to create a safe work environment for all workers throughout the length and breadth of the country. This was evident from the re-establishment of the Ministry of Labour, which under the former APNU+AFC administration was closed down. Apart from the message which the then administration signalled as how it treated with the issues and concerns of the working people of Guyana, it also resulted in much inconvenience to those who have had grievances of one type or another with their employees, especially in the private sector.
It is to the credit of the PPP/C administration that on assuming office, one of the first actions taken at the executive level was to re-establish the Ministry of Labour and in the process issued a warning to employers that it will not condone actions that will be in contravention of the labour laws of Guyana.
To give effect to the policy orientation of the PPP/C administration, several new labour offices were established in all the 10 regions of Guyana. Only recently a new labour office was opened at Corriverton, Region Six, which will serve to ensure that residents can access all of the services in one office. In addition to a labour officer, there will also be an Occupational Safety and Health Officer (OSH), a branch of the Central Recruitment and Manpower Agency (CRMA), a co-op society officer and an officer attached to the Board of Industrial training (BIT). This facility has now been replicated in all 10 regions of Guyana, including the interior districts.
The Ministry of Labour must be given credit for the proactive measures it has taken for the welfare of workers. Several labour agreements were signed between employers and representative unions through the instrumentality of the Labour Department. In addition, the ministry was instrumental in getting employers and unions to agree on salary and wage increases at the conciliation level, after failure by the parties to come to a mutual agreement.
The fact is that there are far too many workers in the country who are not being treated fairly by their employers. This is especially so among those employed in the private security sector and who work for long hours without benefitting from overtime payments as required under the law. The same is true for domestic workers and those in the commercial sector. Many work for wages that are below the statutory minimum and under conditions that are unsafe and hazardous. There are cases where employees are not covered by the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) and are left to fend on their own in the event of accidents or mishaps. There are several reports of workers being forced to sign for wages they do not receive, in an attempt to circumvent the law.
According to data supplied by the Ministry of Labour, 725 complaints have been filed so far this year, mainly from security guards, commercial workers, and those in the mining sector. In addition, a total of $34.6M has been recovered from employers on behalf of workers this year so far.
Our workers must be treated with respect. Labour is an important factor in any production process. In fact, it is the most important factor and the main source of surplus value or profits. It is only reasonable that they be paid fair wages for a fair day’s work. This is especially so in this COVID-19 environment which has already made life difficult for workers.
It was under the previous PPP/C administration that a national minimum wage was enacted by Parliament to safeguard workers against exploitation by employers who may otherwise be inclined to underpay them. The minimum wage in the private sector was first enacted in 2017 and there are indications that the PPP/C administration is considering an adjustment to the existing rates to compensate for inflation and consequential increases in the cost of living.
The PPP/C administration has implemented several policy measures to cushion the impact of the recent floods and the COVID-19 pandemic. Among these were the one-off COVID-19 grants to all households, cash grants to parents of schoolchildren and an additional one-month of pay for old age pensioners, among others. These are indeed commendable measures. The private sector also has a corporate responsibility to ensure that their workers are fairly compensated. As pointed out by President Dr. Mohamed Irfaan Ali during his May Day address, his government is committed to ensuring a better life for all workers, both in the public and private sectors. According to President Ali, over the next five years workers can look forward to greater economic security, enhanced economic prosperity and progressive improvements in living standards.
Our workers deserve no less. As the economy gets stronger, more can be expected. The PPP/C has ideologically been a friend of the working people and it is only natural that its economic and social policies are configured to enhance the working and living conditions of the ordinary people.