Minister of Finance, Winston Jordan, has faced intense criticism for comments he made at a People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR) press conference that Guyanese place a high premium on their labour, compared to those that constitute the immigrant influx.
Responding to those criticisms in a recent radio interview, the Finance Minister said that his statement was taken out of context.
To add weight to his original remarks, the Minister said that Guyanese, in significant numbers, have been leaving to go to other countries from as early as the 1980s. And in these countries, they are, he said, “working in some of these places for salaries that the natives don’t work for. But we go there and we survive and we make it.”
He attempted to draw a parallel between that and the influx of migrants in present day Guyana.
“Many of the people coming here, they’re also running now, because they see Guyana as a paradise. And they are working in some cases, for salaries, that our people don’t want to work for.”
He said that he went to a mall recently and saw Venezuelan migrants who are working in a salon as hairdressers.
“They are doing hair. I’m not saying we don’t want to do hair, but they are doing hair. How can they get into that business so easily when there are so many hairdressers?” the Minister asked rhetorically.
He said that the idea is for Guyanese to ensure that they are gainfully employed, above all else, even if the wage isn’t as high as they would prefer, “until something else comes along, no matter your qualification.”
He added that he has seen persons with PhDs (Doctorate of Philosophy) who are working at McDonald’s, an American fast food company.
“There’s dignity in every kind of labour.”
“And if the thing that you’re looking for, you can’t get it now, then adapt, because we all have to eat… And there are no handouts; there’s nothing free. Even the air that you breathe is not free.”
In his original comments, he had said “the fact that you can go in a country of a native and get a job, what does it suggest? Many things; for one, the labour cost in that country is very high, because if I am prepared to cut grass for $1,000 but the native wants to cut grass for $1,500 who are you going to employ? Most obviously, the $1,000… and I would go for the $1,000,” the Finance Minister posited.
He had explained that many immigrants are coming to Guyana, and taking up jobs that Guyanese would typically frown on, and being paid less than locals typically would.
Opposition Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo, had responded that it’s shocking that the Minister would imply that Guyanese should lower their wage expectations in order to compete with immigrants for jobs.
The Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Guyana (FITUG) added to the criticism, stating “It is saddening that the Minister, who is a trained economist, is advocating that his fellow countrymen and women must work for lesser pay in order to be employed.
“At a time when the Minister’s Government, through its policies, has engineered the retrenchment of thousands of Guyanese, and at a time where the working-people and their families are having a hard time to make their meager ends meet, the Minister’s contentions can only be seen as a slap in the face of the Guyanese people.”