The Minister of Public Service, Sonia Parag, is urging healthcare workers to comply with the measures outlined in the Essential Services Arbitration Act, and to desist from protest action. Over the past two weeks, the workers have been protesting for salary increases and risk allowances.
The Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU) has also threatened strike action from October 7, 2020, if the demands are not met.
According to the Arbitration Act, before any such action, one month’s notice must be given to the relevant Minister alerting him/her of the grievances and the Minister then has one month to respond. To date, the protesting workers have not made an official complaint stating their grievances as mandated by law.
“The protest actions at the moment, I deem them to be illegal. Because they are procedures that are to be invoked in the Essential Services Arbitration Act. The Arbitration Act kicks in as soon as you feel you have a dispute,” Minister Parag said.
Chief Labour Officer (CLO), Mr. Charles Ogle indicated that an ultimatum was filed on January 24, 2019; however, given the elapsed time, the validity is in question. He also stated that a petition was filed for risk allowances at the onset of the pandemic, which was granted.
Minister Parag further stated that the action taken by nurses appear to be politically instigated given that their standards have been improved since the PPP/C Government took office in August, with meaningful; upgrades and the provision of crucial gear to take on the COVID-19 pandemic.
She further highlighted that former Minister of Finance, Mr. Winston Jordan under the previous Government had refused a similar petition.
“I find it very peculiar that protest action is being taken now by the nurses or the healthcare workers when we have provided for them in the Budget and at that time they were flatly refused and no action was taken whatsoever,” the Public Service Minister said.
She warned nurses not to be lured by politicians and the GPSU, which appears to be pushing an anti-government agenda.
Some $150 million was approved in the 2020 Budget for risk allowances for essential workers.
Minister Parag recalled that this allocation was made considering the new risks posed to frontline workers due to the pandemic, and without them having to approach the Government. Further, the allocation was made despite financial constraints and a damaged economy inherited from the previous administration.
Healthcare workers are also benefiting from other measures in Budget 2020, including the $25,000 per household cash grant and major tax reversals.
The Minister said nurses are an important and valued group of the country’s workforce and she urged them to return to work.
The Chief Labour Officer also urged the essential workers to refrain from protest and strike action and to approach the situation as provided by the law, as this would form the basis to advance discussions to resolve issues with the relevant authorities.
Mr. Ogle also said the Ministry of Labour is always available to assist the workers on the right way forward to address their concerns.
Going forward, the Government will continue to ensure that the standards for public service workers across all sectors are enhanced and the livelihoods of all Guyanese are improved.
Budget 2020 has rolled several initiatives to transform the lives of all Guyanese, with measures such as the $25,000 per household COVID-19 relief measures, major tax reversals and free water and electricity for pensioners. (Department of Public Information)