Women's Issues In Guyana

TUC pillories gov’t on college funds

Posted in Activism,Business,Education by wiig on May 2, 2008
Tags: , , ,

Stabroek News – May 2, 2008
By Johann Earle

With the labour movement still deeply divided, speakers at this year’s GTUC May Day rally pilloried the government over the cost of living and the cutting of the state subvention to the Critchlow Labour College (CLC) among other areas and PM Sam Hinds was given a rough reception.

Following yesterday’s morning’s traditional march, Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC) affiliates rallied at the CLC on Woolford Avenue while affiliates of the rival FITUG gathered at the National Park. The GTUC rally was marred by the rude treatment of Prime Minister Hinds shortly after he arrived at CLC. Hinds had been invited to the event by the leadership of the GTUC.

Speaking at the rally held in the CLC compound, Coretta McDonald of the GTUC said the members were angry at the state of the country and on the approach to these problems by the leadership of the Guyana Trades Union Congress.

She noted that the labour movement preceded the political movement of the country and that it was labour that first challenged the merchant class and the colonial masters.  

She said that among the issues that were causing the anger were the Guyana Power and Light’s high charges for electricity, attacks on freedom of speech, the sloth at which persons are attended to at the Georgetown Hospital, the withholding of the subvention for the CLC by the Government, and the services of the Guyana Water Inc (GWI).

“The issues I have raised make me angry. The GTUC has to put its house in order and it starts with the Central Executive Committee. It needs to be strengthened and this can only be realised when there is unity of purpose on issues,” she said. “It is time we started doing what is right. It is time for some members of the executives to stop signing agreements (without the full knowledge of members).”

Not for sale

“Brothers and sisters, the workers here are not for sale,” she said. Speaking at the rally, Red Thread’s Karen De Souza said: “We are once again in the midst of a divided workforce. The position of Red Thread is that we have to stand up for the rights of workers. If we don’t do that we will always be [in this position],” she said.

De Souza added that the work done by women in the home needs to be recognised and counted, as this has never been so.

“Start from where it begins, in the home,” she said, adding that it is in the home that the work must be done to raise people who will later on join the labour force.  She advised the labour movement to be clear in their demands for better conditions for workers and that they should investigate why the movement is divided and what needs to be done to unify it.

The women’s activist said that there are still many work places that do not have day care facilities for children so that mothers don’t have to worry about their welfare while they make a living.  “This should be an issue that labour fights for; the provision of child care in the work place,” she said.

De Souza noted too that ordinary people have no knowledge of the consultation work for the Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP). She said that the Value Added Tax (VAT) punishes workers a second time since they already are subjected to Pay as You Earn (PAYE) tax.


Speaking in his capacity as President General of the Guyana Labour Union (GLU), Leader of the Opposition and of the PNCR Robert Corbin said that one of the Government’s latest attacks on the labour movement is the withholding of the subvention for the CLC. For the second year in row some of the GLU members went to the GTUC rally and the others to the FITUG forum.

Corbin said that the increase in the cost of living is not only a global issue, but also a testament of the Government’s lack of vision. He said that sometime ago when the PNCR suggested investment in East Coast communities to get agriculture off the ground, this was rejected. “Now the Government wants us to smile with them and “grow more food.” He said that the PNC Feed, Clothe and House Ourselves programme was dismissed by the present administration.

“Everything going up, sugar, flour, milk, wheat, oil and wages remain low. It is time all labour leaders put their egos aside and recognise that all of us are suffering. Wherever we are, we are experiencing a crisis in Guyana today.

Vera Naughton of the Guyana Public Service Union said that the interest of the workers is not a priority of the Government. She said that some labour leaders are also complicit with the Government in shunning workers’ interests and that this is a disadvantage to those workers and their children. She said that the economic realities for workers are contributing to the increased crime in society.

Naughton said that the courts are innocuous in protecting workers’ rights. She spoke of the torture allegations against members of the joint services and said that such practices are violations of the constitutional rights of citizens.

She said that over the years, the GPSU has been treated with hostility by the Government for representing workers on injustices committed. She said that persons in the public service are intimidated when they express a willingness to join the union.

“The GPSU will continue to fight these injustices…our hope is that by the next May Day there will be a united labour movement,” she said.


President of the GTUC Gillian Burton said that there must be a face-off with the oppressors of the workforce. “The daily existence of working class citizens has become zero-rated like some of the food items. We have become refugees in our own land. Severance pay has replaced bonuses,” she said.

She said that many people, because of the lack of money, are finding themselves involved in crime or corrupt practices. “Therefore the lack of money is the root of all evil,” she said.

Burton said that too many public servants remain in their positions without being confirmed. In this light, she called for the immediate confirmation of Genevieve Whyte-Nedd as the Chief Education Officer. A substantial number of public service employees have been acting in their positions for several years.

Burton spoke too of the hassles of the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) pension system and said that it is unfair for people who worked and contributed to the Scheme to have to be pushed around for their benefits. She also spoke against the proposal to carry the pension age to 65. The GTUC President said that incentives for labour friendly workplaces should be looked at.

On the Critchlow Labour College monies issue, Burton said that the restoration of subventions to the college is overdue.

She called for the release of Oliver Hinckson from custody in light of Carifesta which celebrates the arts, of which Hinckson is a player by virtue of his being a writer.

During Burton’s presentation, the entourage of Prime Minister Hinds arrived and as he exited his car, the chants and shouts from mostly women at the gathering began. They called for Hinds to go “out de place” and these chants and taunts continued for about 15 minutes before the Prime Minister decided that he had had enough. He left along with Minister of Labour Manzoor Nadir, who had been present at the rally. During the earlier stages of the rally, Nadir had been subjected to mild taunts and heckling, but nothing of the magnitude that Hinds sustained.

After the Prime Minister departed, Burton said that he had been invited to the event, but she hardly admonished the gathering for their behaviour towards him. She simply said that the people were exercising their right to choose who they will have in their presence.

Towards the end of the meeting, a vice president of the GTUC, Norris Witter urged members of the gathering to stand united with the GTUC in the cause for better conditions. He said that the body will determine which method will be used in some form of action to be staged today. “We need to test an option that hasn’t been used in a long time,” Witter told the warmed-up gathering.

Further, Corbin announced that the PNCR will be having another protest march on Thursday May 8, 2008.


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