Working poor and vulnerable are no better off in the oil & gas economy – GTUC

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SEE BELOW THE STATEMENT ISSUED BY THE GUYANA TRADE UNION CONGRESS:

The celebratory Christmas/New Year’s period is behind us, and the working class (the working poor) is being forced to confront the harsh cost of living, as Government presented a National Budget, $781.9 billion, representing more than 41 percent spending than last year, but workers see no direct benefit on their standard of living, nor saw any amelioration programme from government to this effect.

The Guyana Trade Union Congress (GTUC), like other progressive international organisations, is more concerned with the Human Development Index (HDI) than the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), as a measurement of growth as the former places people at the centre of development.

Human Development Index vs Gross Domestic Product

Government boasts GDP growth in 2022 of over 60 % (IMF figures), more than 41% increase in spending in 2023, revenue from oil and gas and royalty will climb to US$1.63 Billion, but these have seen no comparative improvement in the lives of the working poor and vulnerable, nor any indication on government’s part how this could be made possible.

Deterioration in HDI is borne out in the reports of several international organisations that pointed out in spite Guyana is growing at an extraordinary rate, poverty is increasing (49 % of the population), and health and education outcomes are lagging behind Latin America and Caribbean low-and-middle countries even though Guyana is ranked the wealthiest economy (World Bank, October 2022).

GTUC continues to bemoan Government’s disregard for these indicators, who from all appearances, is steering Guyana into the path of the Dutch disease and its attending social ills.

GTUC notes the government’s flagrant disregard for the wage and salary earners in the middle- and lower-income brackets, even though they comprise most of the working class, which suggests the government is not only uncaring but unmindful of widening the gulf between the rich and poor.

Flagrant violation of rights

It remains of concern to the labour movement that the constitutional rights of workers and citizens continue to be assailed by the Irfaan Ali/Bharrat Jagdeo regime.

We must ask ourselves why in a land of plenty government continues to ignore the rights of some workers to collective bargaining (Article 147), denying the constitutional right of some trade unions to participate in the nation’s economic developmental thrust and management of the economy (Articles 38 and 149C), the exclusion of the major political opposition and other stakeholders even though the constitution outlined the principal objective of the political system should be that of an “inclusionary democracy” (Article 13).

Further, only an uncaring government will continue to transgress the constitutional right of Guyana’s children to free university education (Article 27). A right is a right and should no longer be deferred.GTUC reiterates the call for the reinstitution of free education at the University of Guyana.

At the same GTUC advises the public whereas the government last year withheld the subvention to the Critchlow Labour College it freely dispensed the workers’ money to foreign universities and their staff to educate Guyana’s children on programmes that could be run here and ensure employment and economic opportunities for Guyanese.

Socio-economic benefits and removal of PAYE

Cash grant is another sore concern, for whereas President Ali misled the nation into thinking a call has been made to pay each citizen $1 million, as against a household, the government engages in various forms of cash grants to sections of the society as others are denied. We must question the refusal to pay universal cash grants to every Guyanese household.

Whereas GTUC notes the reduction of taxes for the business community, the call is reiterated for the removal of PAYE for workers. In this oil and gas economy, where the government is garnering other revenue streams it is time to lift this nation’s economic burden from the workers’ backs.

The National Insurance Scheme (NIS), the country’s only safety net for workers and the retired, needs urgent attention. Government must move with alacrity in retooling this organisation so it can serve those who have duly contributed and met the qualifying requirements. The run on the scheme is not only criminal but inhumane.

NIS’ debt must not only be absolved by the Government, but the Scheme must get the deserving injection of resources (financial and otherwise) to ensure its sustainability well into the future. For most workers this is their only investment. The time is also opportune to examine Unemployment Benefit to alleviate the economic dislocation for the laid off.

Youth involvement and disregard for the elderly

There is growing despair among the young who are either leaving high school or university, qualified but finding it difficult to match employment with their education, as others need support for a second chance. Young people must be assured they belong, through involvement, proper training/education to compete, employment/economic opportunities, and investment in their retirement.

Regrettably, if we continue the trajectory of increased prices and decreased value in income the future looks bleak and the indigenous labour force will respond through migration, allowing for the invasion of a new labour force with no kinship to Guyana and whose desperation may allow them to accept substandard wages and standard of living.

Our elders are being made to feel their investment in Guyana, now that they are in their golden years, meant nothing. Their small pension has not kept pace with inflation nor are they being justly rewarded for their contributions to nation-building. How the Ali/Jagdeo regime sees this vulnerable group is summed up in the words of a Minister of Government who said “old age pension was not meant to ‘mind’ anyone, it’s just a pension.”

Guyanese not better off

2023 finds the workers worse off than they were before. The HDI indices show Guyanese are not better off. Workers, unsupported, are struggling with runaway cost of living, reduced purchasing power, and are spending more for less. Inflation rate has moved from a 2.09 in 2019 to a 9.4 per cent in 2022 (IMF figures). Within the last three years the government did not pay wages/salary increase in 2020, paid a 7% increase in 2021, and 8 % in 2022.

Workers continue to turn the wheels of production for a government that cares not for them and has no qualms flaunting their contempt.

At the macro level fear, extrajudicial and execution style have returned. Efforts are being to stifle the right to be heard and freedom of expression, among man’s most basic of rights. PAHO reports on Guyana said non-communicable diseases have increased, suicide rate is among the highest in the world, and maternal death has increased. USA Travel advisory has Guyana at a Level 3, informing visitors to reconsider travel to Guyana due to crime. In 2021 Guyana declined on the Global HD1.

Buildings and infrastructures are not indicators of development; people and their quality of life, including their safety and protection of their rights are. Given the data the majority of Guyanese are not better off.

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