Trade unions unhappy –will meet Thursday to discuss challenges confronting them

Veteran trade unionist Lincoln Lewis

By Svetlana Marshall

THE Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC) will be hosting a special meeting with unions across Guyana, to discuss the many challenges that currently confront them.“The intent of this meeting is to discuss the many challenges that confront the trade union community, among which are the continuous violation of the Right to Collective Bargaining, as seen in sectors such as the Public Service, Teaching Service, the rice and bauxite industries,” GTUC General Secretary Lincoln Lewis said recently in a circular to trade unions.

Lewis said it is important to convene the meeting, given the number of flagrant violations to the Guyana Constitution, Laws of Guyana, International Labour Organization (ILO) Conventions, and respect for time-honoured principles.

“These matters have direct impact on the survival and well-being of our right to exist as a stakeholder in this society, and be part of the decision-making processes that affect the well-being of our membership,” Lewis stated.

The meeting will be held in the GTUC boardroom in Woolford Avenue, Georgetown on Thursday from 10:00hrs. Approximately 40 presidents and general secretaries from unions across Guyana are expected to attend.

In an interview with Guyana Chronicle on Monday ahead of the meeting, Lewis said matters involving the Bauxite Company of Guyana Incorporated (BCGI) and RUSAL will be among top issues on the agenda. GTUC has long accused the Russian bauxite company (RUSAL) of disregarding its workers’ rights to operate in safe conditions. Fifty-seven persons were, in 2009, dismissed by RUSAL in a matter which remains unresolved. Additionally, the company has failed to recognise the union representing those workers.

“On every occasion that the Ministry has met with the BCGI on RUSAL, the issue of engaging with the trade union has not been discussed. What they are doing (is that) they are walking around that issue; they have never said, and they do not say, that the Guyana Bauxite and General Workers’ Union (GB&GWU) is the recognised trade union for the workers; they (are) always talking in abstract about respecting (the) workers’ right to join a union,” Lewis declared.

He said failure to engage the union is a breach of the law – Section 23 (1) of the Trade Union Recognition Act. “So it comes over as if the Government or the Ministry of Labour is an accomplice of the act of seeking to keep the union from representing the workers,” Lewis charged.

Lewis is also contending that the Government is promoting and protecting the interests of the business community, and doing to the contrary for labour.

The Government’s imposition of a one-to-10 per cent increase for public servants without the approval of the Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU) is another issue to be addressed, Lewis said.

Commenting on the issue, Lewis said he is surprised at Government’s action. “I am not only surprised, but I believe that that is an act of deception: that is how I see it. It puts you to the point where you begin to question if what you would have understood — that politics is about people and people’s development -– if those values and principles no longer stand.”

Representatives from the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers’ Union (GAWU); the National Association of Agricultural, Commercial and Industrial Employees (NAACIE); The Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Guyana (FITUG); GTUC; GPSU and GB&GWU are among the unions expected to attend the meeting.