Finance Minister Winston Jordan, a few days ago, received flak from some sections of the society over recent remarks he made in relation to the unemployment situation in Guyana. Jordan was reported in the media as saying that Guyanese are crying foul over the lack of job opportunities when foreign nationals are coming here and getting employment. He had opined that Guyanese are demanding high wages, hence, jobs often go to those foreigners who are willing to accept lesser salaries.
He said: “When you say there are no jobs, I’ve seen Venezuelans and I’ve seen Cubans, I’ve seen Brazilians, I’ve seen Nigerians and I’ve seen Haitians now getting jobs in Guyana – a country that supposedly doesn’t have jobs or you hear a lot of young people say, they ain’t got jobs. I’m not speaking lies, you have Haitian carpenters, Brazilians carpenters and plumbers and so on. So there must be jobs, the question is whether the job is paying what you want it to pay. For these (foreign) people yes, for some of the natives no”.
Even if this were the case, such a statement coming from a minister is very worrying to say the least. Jordan’s response to the troubling unemployment rate here could send the wrong message to young people. That is, if they (Guyanese) refuse jobs based on low wages or unacceptable conditions, it is no big deal for the Government, as foreigners could easily take up those jobs.
Jordan’s remarks are also at variance with what the coalition had promised in the 2015 elections campaign trail. They had promised that once elected, steps would be taken to provide jobs for young people so that they would choose to remain and work here, but four years into government, many are still waiting to see these promises fulfilled.
While it is not the Government’s role alone to create jobs, they have an obligation to the citizenry to ensure that a suitable environment is created for the private sector to thrive so that they could expand and open up new investments that would, in turn, provide decent jobs. It is the Government’s responsibility to ensure that the right policy mechanisms are put in place that would encourage and allow the manufacturing and services sector to grow. At the moment, businesses, particularly manufacturers, are finding it extremely difficult to operate here as a result of high taxation and unreliable and expensive cost of energy, among other factors.
A responsible government displays vision by initiating long-term measures for poverty alleviation, since generation of employment opportunities and equality in income distribution are the two key factors that are of utmost importance to deal with the dual problem of unemployment and poverty.
Young people are crying out for decent jobs and opportunities to develop themselves. Some persons who would have obtained the necessary skills and qualifications at the University of Guyana and other tertiary learning institutions have written letters to media complaining about the difficulties they are facing in securing employment. It is also not only the quantity, but also the quality of jobs that matters. Decent work is the best way young people can realise their aspirations, improve their living conditions, and actively participate in society.
A new Guyana Labour Force Survey in 2018 had found the unemployment rate here to be 12% in the third quarter of 2017, with high disproportions of both women and youth. Also, recent figures from the International Labour Organisation (ILO) have estimated youth unemployment in Guyana to be almost 23 per cent.
There is need to scale up the most effective and innovative strategies so that more of our youth will find success and realise their full potential. In doing so, it is necessary for more collaboration between the public and private sectors to increase the scale of youth programmes and to seriously engage stakeholders in promoting job opportunities.
Policies and national programmes that provide incentives to enterprise to hire young people, promote youth entrepreneurship, and facilitate access to finance and to other targeted active labour market measures can also help in improving decent work prospects.
By simply dismissing the problem as one where Guyanese are refusing to take up employment because of their expectation of ‘high’ salaries, and foreigners willing to work for less money, shows the lack of vision on the Government’s part to address the unemployment situation here. With Guyana on the cusp of becoming an oil-producing nation, it is hoped that this is one area that would be placed on top of the agenda of whichever government is at the helm of power.