Op-Ed: GAWU salutes the workers of Guyana on Labour Day

As we celebrate Labour Day 2018, the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) is pleased to extend militant greetings to all our workers, indeed, to all Guyanese. Labour Day is one of the few holidays observed internationally and is always a reminder of those of the working-class who have made invaluable contributions to better workers lives. It is also the occasion for the working-class to acknowledge its common objectives and recognize the need for solidarity in their ever-sharpening struggles for a peaceful world and a better life.

Our Union is pleased to take part in this year’s activities which are being held unitedly by the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Guyana (FITUG) and the Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC). The main rally in the city is one of the several activities which have resulted from the improved collaboration and co-operation between the two (2) workers’ bodies. We are optimistic that this positive development in the relations between FITUG and the GTUC will be strengthened in the period ahead.

Labour Day offers another appropriate occasion to express our concerns over some policies being pursued of recent and their effects on the working people of the country. Here we refer to the uncalled cessation of the Education Grant to school children; the removal of subsidies from Old Aged Pensioners; the significant increases in licences and other fees; the increase in certain taxes as well as the introduction of new taxes. These and other things should be reviewed with a view to restore those benefits and rescind those measures which will certainly further raise the cost-of-living.

As we celebrate the accomplishments and contributions of workers, we cannot fail to take note of the state our workers find themselves in today. From the recently released Guyana Labour Force Survey we see a very discouraging picture. Apart from telling us that less than half of the working-age population is actually employed, it provided some very worrying statistics concerning youth and female unemployment and the disparity in earnings between men and women. For us it is very vexing that notwithstanding a national 40-hour work week, workers are working beyond the stipulated time which serves to indicate that low rates-of-pay are being offered and the workers must work the extra hours in order to make ends meet.

The report also pointed out that about 50 per cent of those employed work in the informal sector. The ILO has generally warned that such situations should not be encouraged as workers tend to be exploited and such precarious forms of employment tend to lend to increased impoverishment. On this score, we were very surprised, and at the same time upset, to learn that 8.8 per cent of public sector employees appear to have an informal job. If this is indeed the reality it is sad that our Government is encouraging such employment relations and should take every step to formalize the situation.

The Trade Union movement, indeed, the working-class and other working people have a number of matters to reflect on, discuss and to seek to resolve. With the unity being forced, we are optimistic that we can give, in a principled way, the necessary leadership to meet the challenges before us.

The GAWU is sure, that together, in our unity, we can overcome obstacles in our way and the Trade Unions can make a major contribution towards a new day and a better society for our people.

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