TRADE unions are organisations that are owned and controlled by workers and members. The programmes of the trade unions derive from the concerns and demands that emanate from the working class. These concerns and demands have led to the Charter of Demands signed by the Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC) and the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Guyana (FITUG) on 15th April 2016.
These demands are: return of, and respect for, collective bargaining where trade unions exist; honouring the High Court decision to reissue letters of arbitration to the Guyana Bauxite and General Workers Union and the Bauxite Company of Guyana Incorporated; crafting of a national programme for jobs’ creation; creation of a Labour and Economic Council; establishment and honouring of a mechanism to address the sugar industry; creation of a Foreign Investment Commission to address the telecommunications and natural resources sectors; review the tax concessions granted to companies; review of State and NIS pensions; establishment of a Ministry of Labour; respect for the rule of law.
The unions are mindful that the right to collective bargaining, which was fought for and won by them, must be preserved. We are convinced in our demand that the framers of the Guyana Constitution respected this achievement by enshrining it in Article 147. It means therefore, that every employer, including government, where a recognition agreement exists, has to treat with the recognised union. It follows that Government, as an employer, must engage the unions in state institutions; and as guardian of the nation’s laws, ensure all employers, where unions exist, do likewise.
When Cheddi Jagan and Forbes Burnham came onto the national scene in the 1940s, they met an active and militant trade union community. They embraced the workers’ agenda and made it part of the political platform.
Labour’s demand for development of a national programme that would lead to job creation is underpinned by us taking our rightful place at the decision-making table, and by an understanding that employment and economic opportunities are linked to the reduction of poverty and other social ills.
The seeming absence of such a programme and exclusion of labour in bringing about such a programme are not treated with lightly. It is of grave concern that what is being seen today in the area of work fits into non-continuous and short-term operational relationship. This will not tackle unemployment and underemployment in a sustained manner, nor would it create the economic empowerment people need for growth and development.
It is important to recognise that the presence of a Labour and Economic Council presents an avenue to conceptualise and develop ideas that are grounded in labour principles, which would contribute to protection of natural and human resources. Such a council can develop programmes that would guide investment in various sectors. The non-recognition of this component to development subjects the nation and its citizens to exploitation by unsavoury forces, foreign and local.
It is also of concern that there is an absence of a clear policy in guiding development.
As it relates to the sugar industry, any decision taken has to consider the socio-economic impact on the lives of Guyanese; more importantly, the communities stretching from Parika to Crabwood Creek.
Certain consequences would flow if restructuring of this industry is not properly handled. Though it is anyone’s guess in terms of quantification, suffice it to say there will be dislocation for those who rely on the industry directly and indirectly. If the situation is not properly handled, the potential for forces to engage in political grandstanding and manufacture division in the society would be created. And though sugar workers will feel the direct economic impact, villages on the coastland can be affected, since several of the canals by which they are drained are maintained by GuySuCo.
Decisions on the industry cannot be addressed only in the context of economics, but require holistic thinking and application.
The Government of Guyana, starting with the Bharrat Jagdeo Administration, has the benefit of Article 13 that came with constitutional reform, yet successive governments have since failed to embrace the spirit, intent and letter of this article, which mandates involvement of the people in management and decision-making processes of the state that affect their well-being. Instead, there continues to be lip service paid to concepts such as social cohesion, unity, and inclusionary democracy, and nothing is being done in structured ways to include those outside of the inner circle to deliberate on their well-being.
Labour finds this a troubling feature of the politicians. Talks of unity have no regard for the right to freedom of association outside of the circle in which politicians want to define and confine the trade unions. Unity, to them, does not cater for diversity and the benefits flowing therefrom.
In last week’s article, the matter of unity was addressed, but it was rewritten without my knowledge and consent under my penmanship. Thus today what was written by me but deleted is hereunder stated:-
“2016 finds the Labour Movement not lacking of unity based on simplistic belief that such only exists being in one federation that stands in contempt of the universal right to freedom of association protected in the Guyana Constitution (Article 147) and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention No. 87 (Article 6).”
Labour’s agenda cuts across interest groups. In pursuit of ensuring that workers/citizens get their just treatment and reward in society, which for the GTUC is grounded in universal principles, there shall be alliance(s) with those whose interests converge with ours.