THE PPP/ C Government must be commended for establishing a Ministry of Labour as distinct from a department within another ministry on its assumption of office as the newly elected government in August 2020. The new Ministry of Labour faces the challenge of delivering fully the mandate required of an effective ministry. The mandate is defined by Guyana’s construction, labour laws, regional and international labour standards in keeping with its obligations as a member of the UN’s International Labour Organisation (ILO) since 1966, and CARICOM, from its inception.
The Ministry of Labour has direct responsibility for national labour policy, industrial relations, conciliation/mediation, labour standards, labour legislation, occupational safety and health, the general co-ordination of labour administration services, and tripartite consultation and dialogue on labour matters, involving the government and the social partners – the representatives of the national trade union body and the employers’ organization, the Consultative Association of Guyanese Industry Ltd. (CAGI), which was established and has been functioning since 1962, and is the recognised employers’ organisation by the UN-ILO
The Ministry of Labour and social partners – representatives of trade unions and the recognised employers’ organisation – have been involved over the years in tripartite and other consultative meetings, and attendance with the government at the annual international labour conference in Geneva. They have also participated in the numerous events – seminars, conferences, symposia, and meetings organised or sponsored by the ILO Sub-regional Office for the Caribbean. The social partners are very aware of, and knowledgeable about ILO standards and their tripartite obligations in the labour and social fields. They have a stake and responsibility, in keeping with ILO-ratified conventions, for the way labour-administration services are resourced and delivered, and for the observance in law and practice of international labour standards.
The Labour Ministry and the social partners constitute essentially the tripartite pillars of the industrial relations system. The Labour Ministry is required to provide effective labour administration services to workers, trade unions, employers and their organisations. This is done through the chief labour officer and staff of the ministry in their technical, advisory, inspectorate, and conciliation/mediation functions.
The labour-administration system is informed, influenced and functions within the norms of national legislation, international labour standards, and regional labour policy of CARICOM. The national constitution of Guyana, the labour laws, and international labour conventions of the ILO, ratified by Guyana as treaty and international law, provide the legal basis, foundation and framework for the conduct of labour relations by the government, its agencies, and the social partners represented by trade unions and employers and their organisations.
International Labour Policies
There are also regional and other international instruments impacting the work of the Ministry of Labour. As a member of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), Guyana is committed and obligated to observe the labour policies of CARICOM as set out in its Charter of Civil Society, and its Declaration of Labour and Industrial Relations Principles, 1999.
Article XIX of the Charter of Civil Society provides for the right and protection of every worker to:
* freely belong to and participate in trade union activities;
* negotiate and bargain collectively;
* be treated fairly at the work place, and to enjoy a safe, hygienic and healthy working environment;
* reasonable remuneration, working conditions, and social security; and
* utilise/establish machinery for the effective conduct of labour relations.
The CARICOM Declaration of Labour and Industrial Relations Principles outlines the general labour and industrial relations policy to which the CARICOM states aspire. The declaration was informed by ILO labour standards (conventions and recommendations) and reinforced these standards relating to:
* freedom of association, collective bargaining, non-discrimination in employment and occupation, employment policy, labour administration, industrial disputes settlement, consultation, and tripartism.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948 of the United Nations Article 23 states that:
1. Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
2. Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.
3. Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration, ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.
4. Everyone has the right to form and join trade unions for the protection of his interests.
The Challenge for the Ministry of Labour
Given the continuing adversarial nature and practice of industrial relations by the parties, compounded by political and partisan interests, and the exploitation of ethnicity, the compelling challenge and responsibility of the Ministry of Labour (and the relevant government agencies), the social partners and civil society, is to transform the industrial relations climate from an adversarial model to a consensus-based model through sustained social dialogue, tripartism, and partnerships which can lead to national social accords for national economic and social development.
Samuel J. Goolsarran