President David Granger: Officials; Ministers of the Government, you see we’ve come out here; we have got half of the Cabinet here; Minister of Social Protection, Amna Ally; Minster of Legal Affairs, Basil Williams; Minister within the Ministry of Public Infrastructure, Annette Ferguson; Minister within the Ministry of Public Health, Dr Karen Cummings; ladies and gentlemen; comrades; colleagues. It’s always a pleasure to come here on May Day. You can be sure that if it’s May Day I will be here.
If I’m not here it’s not May Day but I’d like to share with the Union my condolences on the sad loss of your former General Secretary at such an early age. This is a Union where many of you have grown up and met in existence. It has always been a vibrant Union interfacing with the business community. It is not a government Union by any means, and the vitality, the vitality must come from you, the members, for over seven decades.
I am happy to meet you not because I bring a bag full of promises but because you yourselves are the promise of Guyana. Your labour, your commitment, your dedication, is what is going to move this country ahead and new things are happening, important things are happening in the commercial sector. Many people have been complaining that business is bad – not true. Over the last three years, over 20 Surinamese companies have come into this country. Whenever you look around you see huge Trinidadian corporations in this country; every year you see plane loads of people coming into this country. Why are companies coming into this country? Because we are bankrupt? They are coming into this country because Guyana is a land of promise.
They are coming into this country because they can make money and we have one of the most buoyant economies in the Caribbean Community and many of our critics now that people are coming to Guyana because business is good in Guyana and things will get better. Right now, you all know we have some challenges, but we have been bailing out the sugar industry at nearly a billion dollars a month for nearly three years. We are trying to save workers lives and livelihoods by having an efficient sugar industry so we can cut down on the draining of the economy and at the same time guarantee the remaining sugar workers are having a comfortable life but, in the meantime, a lot of the money that we should have been directing to the Public Services is going to ensure that we don’t take away that safety net from the sugar workers. Things will get better when the oil industry comes around. There is oil here, it is not government oil, it is not PPP oil, it is not PNC oil, it is Guyana oil and your children will benefit.
We are going to put measures in place to ensure that there is a Sovereign Wealth Fund so that your children don’t have to grow up in a country where all the oil money is spent. So we are thinking about you, even in terms of your wages and salaries. You know very well that before we got into office, before I entered the Tenth Parliament back in January 2012, pensions were hardly $7,500 – Old Age Pension. Now what is it? $19,500 and that’s only pensions. When we got into office in May 2015 the minimum wage was $35,000 and now the minimum wage is $60,000.
We are working for you and even those of you who might have come from the countryside would know that every day there are over two dozen free buses moving children to and from school.
So my brothers and sisters, things can only get better. You have a strong Union, you have good relations with the Union, we have a very respectful relationship with the Union. So we ask that you continue to support your union, you continue to support investment in Guyana, all around the country. Only on Friday I was in Linden; people are doing magic with their hands – you cannot imagine the number of things that you could do with honey; the amount of things you could do with simple agricultural commodities! People are learning not only to be employed or to seek employment but to employ themselves and that is the important thing. Maybe in the city, maybe in some of the urban areas, it doesn’t seem to be so important but throughout this country you see housewives, you see young people coming out of school who are becoming self-reliant and who are not looking for ‘lil wuk’ but who are generating employment by themselves, setting up new businesses and new industries.
So my brothers and sisters, the prospects are good. I’m happy to be here with you with half a dozen ministers today and the demonstration of the confidence that we have in free labour; and we will continue to support free labour. I don’t think Mr President… there is any issue between the CCWU and the Central Government that cannot be resolved. So I ask you to continue supporting your Union; I ask you to continue to have faith in Guyana and I ask you to continue to ensure that your children get the benefit of a sound education. We are now living in a highly technological world. It is no longer good enough for a child to go to primary school. It is no longer good for a child to drop out. Children have to get a full education. We have a motto: “Every child in school”. That is one of the reasons why we started this bus programme. All over the country – in riverine areas, in rural areas – children were not going to school because they had no transport. What did we do? We gave them transport. We gave them buses, bicycles, and boats to get to school and I want you, those of you who are from the city, those of you who are from Sophia, those of you who are from East Bank and East Coast and West Coast, every May Day make yourselves a promise that over the next year – I will keep my child in school.
That is what I want you to do. An educated nation will have the result of having full employment. We don’t want to see people – we don’t want to see boys and girls dropping out of school. We want full employment and it is through organisations like CCWU that we will work together to make sure not only that the benefits accruing to workers are guaranteed but also new opportunities for employment are also created.
So thank you very much. Love your Union. Love your country. I love you.