Union leaders call for swift implementation of new minimum wage for workers


Labour Day 2022 saw hundreds of workers taking to the streets under the banners of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Guyana (FITUG) and the Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU), among others, the first such march after a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

As members of FITUG and the Guyana Agriculture and General Workers Union (GAWU) made their way to the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) ground at Carifesta, the other unions ended up at the Critchlow Labour College.

In his address to the gathering, FITUG President Carvil Duncan saluted the workers for their priceless contributions, but also made a call to the Private Sector, to take the initiative when it comes to paying workers a liveable wage.

There is a recommendation, from the National Tripartite Committee (NTC), for the minimum wage to be increased from $47,000 to $60,000 for the Private Sector. This increase was greenlit by the Private Sector Commission (PSC) last year and up to earlier this year was before Cabinet. However, Duncan urged the Private Sector not to wait for the policy to be implemented.

“There are some employers who are saying to us, they are willing to pay the $60,000. But at the same time, they need the State to make the pronouncement and make the law. I say to them now, if you have the ability to pay and you are satisfied that your workers are poorly paid, then pay them and don’t wait on nobody. Because it is said, that the Private Sector is the engine of growth. You have to demonstrate that growth,” Duncan said.

Meanwhile, GAWU General Secretary Seepaul Narine was of a similar view when it comes to the time for paying workers an increased minimum wage. He also lauded the Government’s efforts to cushion the cost of living.

“The provision of grants and other direct support to vulnerable groups would have assisted to stem the challenges. We recognise too, fiscal measures to reduce duties payable on important commodities.”

“We had anticipated that by this time that the new minimum wage of $60,000 per month, which enjoys the support of the social partners, would have been implemented. It is our considered view, that it is difficult for any worker to survive on the current minimum wage,” Narine said.

In fact, the trade unionist noted that the current minimum wage, adjusted for inflating, is worth less than $39,000. According to him, even the proposed $60,000 may have to be looked at further in the future.

The gathering at Critchlow Labour college featured the presence of a number of Opposition Members of Parliament, including Opposition Leader Aubrey Norton and MP Ganesh Mahipaul. Also attending was Georgetown Mayor Ubraj Narine, also a member of A Partnership for National Unity (APNU).

In his address, Norton called for the abolition of income tax and also a minimum liveable income. According to him, it is important for the workers movement to unite and organise in order to achieve these things. According to him, there is no “free lunch.”

“In the context of an oil and gas economy, the poor workers in this country should not be paying income tax. I believe that we have adequate resources to make that a reality. And if one does that, one almost immediately increases the real income of the Guyanese worker.”

Meanwhile, Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC) General Secretary Lincoln Lewis paid tribute to workers across Guyana, in particular for their efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to him, while COVID brought out the best and worse in people, the workers at times put aside their own interests towards a common goal.

“May Day is recognised as a symbol of workers’ continued struggle to lift their standard of living and better their standard of living under which labour. In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic created a new challenge for the safety and security of workers, who were subject to and dependent on the discretion and management of (managers). COVID-19 brought out both the best and worst in us,” Lewis said.