Labour pains …trade unions seek audience with President over labour violations

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The meeting underway yesterday in the GTUC’s boardroom, Critchlow Labour College

By Svetlana Marshall
TRADE unions across the divide will be seeking an audience with President David Granger to discuss among other things the industrial relations climate here and the country’s growth and development.

This is according to a joint statement issued by the unions on Thursday, following a high-level meeting at the Critchlow Labour College.

In attendance were presidents and general-secretaries from the Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC), the National Union of Public Service Employees, Guyana Postal and Telecommunication Workers Union, Clerical and Commercial Workers Union, General Workers Union, the Guyana Teachers Union, the Union of Agricultural and Allied Workers, Guyana Local Government Officers Union, Printing Industry and Allied Workers Union, Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union, the National Association of Agricultural, Commercial and Industrial Employees, the Guyana Public Service Union, United Minibus Union and the People’s United and General Workers Union.

The meeting was held to determine and chart a course forward in light of the current threat to the existence of labour, the unions said in their statement. As such, a number of issues were raised, discussed and deliberated upon with respect to workers’ well-being and labour’s role in representing their interests, in the workplace and wider society.

“It is not lost on the trade union community that the state of affairs between employers, including the Government, is one that poses a threat to a harmonious industrial relations climate, production, productivity, and the nation’s overall growth and development,” the unions stated.

The unions said they are concerned that the Constitution of Guyana is being breached by those who fail to recognise trade unions in Guyana as a major stakeholder in the decision-making process.

The Trade Union Recognition Act (Chapter 98:07) Section 23 (1) states that employers are required to treat with recognised trade unions and engage in good-faith negotiations, however, the unions said in many instances the law is being observed in the breach.

“The Guyana Bauxite and General Workers Union (GB&GWU) as in the case of the Bauxite Company of Guyana Incorporated (BCGI) where since 2009 the employer refuses to treat with the union,” the unions pointed out as they cited an example.

They said too that the Guyana Teachers Union has been affected similarly with the Ministry of Education abandoning negotiations and imposing increases in wages and salaries.

Additionally, the unions said the Good-faith principle which guides Collective Bargaining is not being upheld by the Government with respect to its negotiation with the Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU).

The Government has recently indicated that it will go ahead and pay a 1-10 per cent increase to public servants, saying that it was the last offer that will be made to the GPSU. Sugar workers, the unions posited, are also being affected by decisions made in the absence of their unions.

“We are mindful [that] if these violations and transgressions are not addressed soonest they can become widespread with dire consequences,” the unions said, while signalling their intention to dispatch a letter to President Granger.

When the meeting is held, the unions will discuss the steps needed to be taken to correct these anomalies in the system. The unions reminded that they will continue to be guided by their constitutional duty, rights and responsibilities stipulated in Articles 38, 147, and 149C. With the exception of the GLU and the Amalgamated Transport and General Workers Union, all the other unions were in attendance.

Earlier this week, GTUC’s General-Secretary Lincoln Lewis told this newspaper in an interview that 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.

Lewis had said too that matters involving the Bauxite Company of Guyana Incorporated (BCGI) and RUSAL will be among top issues on the agenda. The 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 the contrary for labour.