The state of the trade union

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LABOUR Day finds the trade union in a state where it ought to be questioning its ability to achieve the goals it sets itself and asserting its role in the society. There is no denying the trade union, as institution, is experiencing flux within and how other stakeholders view its role in society.

Agitations by unions within past years of being denied what they consider a fundamental right to represent their constituents and engage in collective bargaining are known. The presence of two federations, viewed by some as symptomatic of a divided trade union community and by others a matter of the right to freedom of association, from a public perception has not been to the unions’ advantage.

While different reasons have been put forward for the so-called divided state, it cannot be ignored even in state there exist commonalities. Among these has been the respect for freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. A feature of evident weakness within the trade union which prides itself on solidarity is the apparent reluctance by other trade unions and fellow trade unionists to speak out on issues that cut across trade union principles and common interest. This appearance of disjointedness or selfishness the trade union leadership has to take responsibility.

Where the trade union makes the case that the workers stand strong through it, and solidarity is a key factor in this, the trade union community has none to hold to account for this other than itself.  That being said, where trade unions have achieved recognition in the workplace and employers are refusing to enter into collective bargaining with them, which is a violation of the Trade Union Recognition Act, should also be of concern. Whereas it is being said the trade unions are divided, it does not excuse non-compliance with the law by the employer.

Under the International Labour Organisation,the trade union (workers representatives), employers (employers representatives) and government, are considered key to a tripartite relationship in building and maintaining cordial relations, as established by its conventions, in pursuit of the growth and development of those involved and the society. It means therefore that the trade union will have to respect the role and function of government and employers in the society. The same can be said for the other two toward the trade union.

Building positive relations accept the mutually of the other to exist and play a role. It also recognises and appreciates the rules that guide each in the conduct of their business are different. Appreciation for this accepts that even in diversity there can be unity and development of all.

Members of the trade unions rely on the organisation to pursue the improvement of their working conditions and standard of living. This means that the role of the trade union is much more than wages and salary and is that of being all encompassing.  The concern about this being realised is that there exists a paucity of leaders articulating the trade union role and position on matters to the workers’ well-being, in the workplace and wider society. And where such exist it lends to perception, real or perceived, that the trade union is either deprived of the quality of needed leadership or the few who articulate are considered stepping out of their boundary.

Internally,it seems as though all may not be well within some unions. And though conflict is an aspect of human existence and relations, where conflict is seen as being deliberately created as against organic,it can create speculations, not necessarily to the interest of the affected union.

At the time of writing this editorial,the Guyana Public Service Union is caught up in allegation about the integrity of its elections for a new leadership. Without getting into the nitty gritty and back and forth that surrounded the elections, the fact that such allegation exists is something the trade unions has to be mindful of, and the resultant impact it can have.

The trade union is an important institution in Guyana, and where there exist any doubt about this, the Guyana Constitution confirms it. The trade union movement has a record of achievement, spanning more than a century, with its impact felt in the Caribbean and further afield.  At the same time it is up to the trade union to seek to make its presence felt and secure its role in the 21st century society.