— President urges, says ‘union leaders’ behaving like ‘political operatives’
PRESIDENT Dr Irfaan Ali, on Friday, urged trade unions to “take off their political hats and put on the hat of reality” in their approach to the government’s seven per cent across-the-board salary hike for public servants.
“I am seeing a lot of so-called trade union leaders, who are more political operatives. I would consider them political operatives because if you look at their attitude and behaviour and their level of activism now, compared to when the APNU+AFC was in government, you would see that they are driven by an agenda,” President Ali said
“In this country, sometimes we do not want to call a spade a spade, but you have a President who is willing to call a spade a spade, and when you have people who are driven by a particular agenda then they try to distort the facts, they try to distort the truth and they try to manipulate information,” he added.
The President’s comments were against the backdrop of unions, namely the Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU), the Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC) and the Guyana Teachers’ Union (GTU), labelling the seven per cent increase inadequate and calling for more.
“I appeal to the union to take off their political hat and put on the hat of reality, the hat of fairness and in a comprehensive way they too should applaud the government. I’ve spoken to many, many public servants who are fully on board,” President Ali said.
President Ali drew comparison to the five per cent salary increase for public servants announced by the then APNU+AFC administration in 2015, the total value of which was $917.3M. He explained that the net gain was only $696.2M as some $222.1M was deducted in taxes, which is far less than the five per cent.
“Whilst they did this, let us not forget that the APNU+AFC gave themselves, the ministers, the Cabinet members – a 50 per cent increase in salary. They would want you to forget that. Now they so love the public servants, now they so love the workers and the union members,” he said.
WHERE WERE THEIR VOICES
“Where were their voices then? Where were their voices and activism then? It was dead. It was dead, because it suited their narrative. It was dead, because they have an agenda and you cannot represent workers if you do so with an agenda” he added.
That was in addition to many financial hardships imposed on public servants, and the population at large, as a result of measures implemented by the APNU+AFC, President Ali reminded, such as banning the importation of vehicles more than eight years old which made purchasing a vehicle inaccessible for many.
Further, he reminded that the then administration reduced the ceiling on mortgage interest relief by half, which made homeownership more expensive; removed the school cash grant; added Value Added Tax (VAT) on water, electricity, essential foods, data, medicine and medical supplies; sent home over 7,000 sugar workers and over 2,000 Amerindian Community Support Officers (CSOs); and shut down the Linden Call Centre, among other things.
“The public servants whose children were attending private schools, remember what happen to them? They were penalised when VAT was introduced on educational services. All the ‘naysayers’, ‘the huff and puffers’, the conscience of the people that are speaking now, they were silent,” President Ali reminded.
President Ali noted that the net effect of these measures which were imposed by the APNU+AFC equated to a reversal of any increase in salary as through the imposition of new taxes and removal of grants and subsidies persons had less disposable income at their reach.
“They came into government at a time when they inherited a buoyant economy, they did not inherit a situation which we inherited – a COVID-19 situation, an economy in shambles, the productive sector under-performing and totally out of production in some cases, this is what we met,” President Ali reminded.
The draconian measures implemented by the APNU+AFC were reversed when the PPP/C assumed office in 2020, which saw over 100 taxes and fees being removed and a number of grants being reinstated.
“The seven per cent comes with a number of other benefits that the government would have rolled out in the past year to secure livelihood and to ensure that our population has the capacity to withstand the many global challenges that we are facing as a nation,” President Ali reminded.
The seven per cent retroactive pay hike announced by the PPP/C Government will be paid to public servants, including teachers, members of the Disciplined Services, constitutional officeholders, and government pensioners and will benefit over 20,000 persons.
In addition to the pay hike, $400 million has been set aside for a special 2021 payout to frontline workers in the health sector, who Dr. Singh reminded, continue to face extenuating circumstances in the daily discharge of their duties, as the country and the world continue to battle the ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic.
President Ali reminded that these measures are in addition to a slew of measures the PPP/C Government has implemented since assuming office on August 2, 2020, to help cushion the effects of COVID-19, the recent catastrophic flooding and other unprecedented economic burdens citizens faced.
The President Dr. Ali-led government has so far implemented the COVID-19 cash grant of $25,000 per household, which resulted in $7.5 billion distributed to families across all 10 of the country’s administrative regions and the $19,000 grant for children attending public as well as private schools.
Additionally, there was a $25,000 cash grant for public servants; pensioners and persons were given a one-off $25,000 cash grant; $200 million was provided in electricity credits to households that met a certain criterion and $7.6 billion in flood-relief support.
STRENGTHENING DISPOSABLE INCOME
“Our focus is on strengthening your disposable income. Our focus is giving back more to you, giving to your families, enhancing your welfare, improving your livelihood, making homeownership easier, building a strong, healthy, highly educated society,” President Ali explained.
President Ali highlighted that globally, amid the economic crisis confronting many countries, there were moves to cut employment and wages and large economies such as the United Kingdom imposed a wage freeze since 2020; however, Guyana has not done so.
“I say to all those in public service and other workers in this country do not be distracted. Our country is moving positively from strength to strength every day,” the President said.
Adding: “Your government, your President, would ensure that all of you, all of us, are part of the strengthening, deepening, widening of democracy, freedom, prosperity and the ability to live a life that is full, here in Guyana.”