Leader of the Opposition Joseph Harmon has deemed the Government’s seven per cent salary increase for public servants unacceptable calling it “yet another slap in the face”. He said, “This [the increase] is unacceptable and we [the Opposition] reject it; out of hand, we reject that.”
The Opposition Leader reasoned that the increase is actually 3.5 per cent for 2020 and 2021 respectively. He, therefore, called on the PPP Government to increase salaries by 50 per cent, stating that this was promised by the party during its 2020 elections campaign.
However, Public Service Minister Sonia Parag, during an interview with the News Room on Thursday, said that her party made no such promise. She clarified that a viral photo showing that the PPP promised a 50 per cent salary increase is “photoshopped”.
In rejecting the seven per cent salary increase, Harmon said, “It has been established that Guyanese are currently facing a 14 per cent increase in food prices resulting in a significant reduction in their standard of living. In many homes, at least one income earner has lost their job over the last year further reducing the spending capacity of families.”
President Irfaan Ali recently announced that the PPP will employ measures to cushion the rise in the cost of living. Among them, he said, is an increase in salaries for public sector employees. But Harmon believes that these workers deserve better.
He even pointed out that workers got better under the previous APNU+AFC Government. He said that after just 18 months in office, the APNU+AFC increased the minimum wage and income tax threshold by over 50 per cent, and 20 per cent respectively.
According to the Opposition Leader, the APNU+AFC Government also reduced the marginal income tax rate to 28 per cent and removed the tax from employees’ contribution to the National Insurance Scheme (NIS).
In addition, he said that under the Coalition Government, old-age pension was increased by 45 per cent and public assistance by 27 per cent. Further, he noted that the marginal rate of income tax for non-commercial companies was reduced from 30 per cent to 27.5 per cent.
Considering this, Harmon said that the APNU+AFC Government consistently ensured that senior public servants were awarded a lower percentage increase than junior public servants. This, he added, ensured that the income gap reduced over time.
“The PPP’s single rate across-the-board increase is intended to widen the gap between those who have much and those who have little,” he noted.
During a live broadcast on Thursday, Finance Minister Dr. Ashni Singh announced that public servants will benefit from a seven per cent increase in salaries which will be retroactive to January 1, 2021.
“I am pleased to announce now, that your government will be paying an across-the-board increase of seven per cent to public servants, teachers, members of the disciplined services, constitutional office holders, as well as government pensioners,” Minister Singh informed.
“This increase will be granted retroactively to January 1, 2021, and work will start immediately to ensure that it is processed and paid to eligible employees together with their December salary and in time for the festive Christmas season,” Dr. Singh added.
The minister also announced that frontline health workers will be receiving a special pay-out to be made by the end of December.
He said, “Your government has set aside an amount of $400 million for a special 2021 pay-out to be made to frontline workers in the health sector who have continued to face extenuating circumstances in the daily discharge of their duties, as our country and the world continue to battle the ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Additionally, Minister Singh highlighted that the Government will be rectifying the irregularities in salary scales across positions in the public sector. Provisions for this, the minister said, will be made in budget 2022.
He added, “For example, a new graduate with a degree in environmental science might be earning $120,000 in one agency while a new graduate with an identical degree in environmental science might be earning $190,000 in another agency.”
“Government will be taking steps next year to reduce these inconsistencies, by making suitable adjustments to salaries in order to improve the parity and consistency with which persons with comparable qualifications are paid,” he said.
The announcement of the measures adds to what the Government has been doing since taking office to improve the lives of all Guyanese.
The COVID-19 cash grant of $25,000 per household, year-end bonuses in December 2020 to frontline workers and disciplined services, an increase in old-age pension and public assistance, a special $25,000 to all old-age pensioners, public assistance recipients, and persons living with disabilities and the restoration of the ‘Because We Care’ cash grant are just a few to mention.