August 30, 2014

PPP/C working class friendly – Dr Gopaul

Labour Minister Dr Nanda Gopaul

Labour Minister Dr Nanda Gopaul said the People’s Progressive Party/ Civic (PPP/C) was more worker-friendly, as he defended the administration’s social sector spending and increases to public servants over the years. In his budget debate presentation, Dr Gopaul focused on the history of the working class from 1984 to the current period.

Dr Gopaul responded to the issue raised by opposition members of Parliament that pensions and workers’ salaries should have seen more increases. He observed that when demands are made for increased benefits and salaries, the issue must be looked at in an even-handed manner, while examining where the money would come from.

Pointing out that in 1998 the minimum wage was Gy$ 11,445 per month, Dr Gopaul said by the end of 2011, it had increased by 197 per cent to Gy$34,055, “equally for the rate of inflation during that period, the overall aggregate rate was 83.3 per cent or an average of 5.9 per cent per annum. The average wage increase during that period was 14.0 per cent,” the labour minister stated. He explained that this was actually protecting the real wages of the workers, unlike the situation which existed during the 1975-1985 period.

The labour minister explained fundamentally what happened within the wages sector. He noted that in 1984 parliamentarians on the then PNC-government side of the House moved to upturn an Act of Parliament that restored increments in the Temal vs GuySuCo case, by passing a Labour Amendment Act.

“We had to challenge that decision and take the issue right up to the Court of Appeal. The Court of Appeal found that the legislation was against natural justice, was intolerable, and they struck down parts of that law and so increments were restored and some people benefited,” the Labour Minister declared.

In an appeal to the opposition bench, Minister Gopaul stated, “we should never ever get back to the point where our people feel oppressed, where they have to go to the streets to demand and to get their rights. These should be given to them by our leaders who are legislators and who are in the decision-making process.”

He pointed to the 1980s when nearly 6000 public servants were sent home under the guise of retrenchment. “They were given a single day’s notice, and some of them were paid merely a month’s pay in lieu of notice. In some cases, some were given one week’s pay. Thousands did not benefit from any severance pay whatsoever,” he noted.

To avoid any possible repeat of such a scenario, Dr Gopaul explained, “the PPP to ensure that justice is done to workers, enacted the Termination of Employment and Severance Pay Act to bring benefits to the workers in this country, and to ensure that people with years of service are given payment to a maximum of 52 weeks, in cases with those of long service.” Other laws enacted under the PPP/ C administration for the benefit of workers include Occupational Health and Safety, as well as antidiscrimination legislation.

Additionally, the Trade Union Recognition Act was enacted, an issue which had surfaced in Guyana since the 1950s, “went to Parliament several times but was unable to see the light of day”. The PPP/ C has ensured that through this act, workers could have the union of their choice through a democratic process.

Dr Gopaul expressed the belief that with such steps taken, Guyanese workers are very comfortable. Nevertheless, he noted that while the administration does not believe that the current wages structure is at the right level, it has to be dispensed based on the ability of the country to meet all other needs.