Govt now promising increase in Private Sector minimum wage

With elections looming

…amidst hundreds of broken, unfilled promises

As the anticipation of early General and Regional Elections looms heavily over Guyana, the ruling A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) coalition is slowly slipping into elections mode and has begun reintroducing promises it failed to fulfil after being elected to office over four years ago.
This time, that promise comes in the form of a proposed increase in the minimum wage for Private Sector employees. According to the Social Protection Ministry’s Labour Department, headed by Minister Keith Scott, minimum wage in the Private Sector is set to receive another boost as consultations for the increase are in progress.
The current Private Sector minimum wage stands at $44,200 after it was increased from $35,000 in 2017.
The Labour Department’s consultant, Francis Carryl, said that the economy is vastly changing which makes it critical for Private Sector employees to receive another increase.
“We’re not sure when the consultations will be completed but we are working assiduously to raise the Private Sector’s minimum wage, to bring it up to speed with the 2019 economic circumstances. We don’t want to excite anyone but all the parties including the unions, employers and the Government are interested with what has been brought to the table. As soon as the consultations are completed we will announce the increase,” Carryl said in a statement.
The Labour Department boasts about recording “notable achievements” during the first quarter of 2019 in the form of the establishment of three new offices in Regions Two, Eight and Nine. These offices, according to the Department, will provide residents with access to services on a regular basis.

Additionally, to date, the Labour Department has investigated in excess of 500 complaints and conducted about 300 to 400 workplace inspections. During the inspections, some persons who were caught in violation of the labour laws were sensitised and given opportunities to make corrections. On the other hand, others were placed before the court.
Sensitisation workshops and training exercises were hosted by the Department, focusing on the introduction of the Decent Work Country Programme, which Guyana signed on to at the end of 2018. Currently, the Department is continuing its collaboration with the Guyana Forestry Commission (GFC) for the transformation from an informal to formal economy.
Though the Department continues to boast of the strides made, the work continues to be overshadowed by sporadic outbursts from subject Minister Scott. Just last year, after salary and benefits negotiations between the Education Ministry and the Guyana Teachers’ Union failed, resulting in countrywide strikes, Scott referred to the striking educators as “selfish and uncaring”.
This prompted a number of trade unions, organisations and civil society to call for President David Granger to tame Scott.
The Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC) in a statement had said “Minister Scott seems to have a penchant for crass conduct. This is not the first time the trade union community had cause to draw attention to and condemn same, the last most contentious being in December 2016 in the National Assembly during the debates on the National Budget. The tendency to say whatever comes to his mouth, regardless of the impact, and irrespective of his role as the political voice of the Government on issues pertaining to Labour, is of concern”.
The calls initially fell on deaf ears but Scott later apologised for his outburst.
When it comes to fulfilling its promises, Government seems to be lost since they were elected as the champions of change. In the coalition’s 2015 manifesto, jobs for youths and overhauling the education system were placed as priority items but to date, the Government is yet to provide a tangible manifestation of those promises.
According to the APNU/AFC manifesto “We (the APNU/AFC) believe that to keep the sugar industry viable, we will have to create ways to retain whatever manual labour is left and to diversify the industry…”

However, the Government ended up spending millions in a Commission of Inquiry, shelved the report, closed four estates and placed over 7000 sugar workers on the unemployment spectrum. To date, they continue to grapple to come up with a contingency plan and provide gainful employment for the retrenched workers.
The coalition Government, in its manifesto, promised increased access to jobs for youths and improved education but that seems far from the reality of the present.
Article 27 of the Constitution says “Every citizen has the right to free education from nursery to university as well as at non-formal places where opportunities are provided from education and training”.
Nevertheless, Guyanese, particularly youths, are forced to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in tuition fees to attend the rapidly deteriorating University of Guyana since that is the only tertiary institution in Guyana. UG continues to raise its tuition fees with students not getting any tangible benefits. Washrooms and classrooms are in deplorable conditions yet students are forced to pay some $50,000 in facilities fees in addition to their increased tuition fees.
Additionally, there are no guarantees of jobs when one graduates from the University.
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo borrowed the idea of supporting free tertiary education from the People’s Progressive Party. He was later called out by Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo for the act.