100 years of lawful trade unionism in Guyana
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Dear Editor,

THIS year, 2021, is the Centenary Year for lawful trade unionism in Guyana, consequent upon enactment of the Trade Unions Act: Chapter 98:03 – No. 17 of 1921 on 18 June 1921. With Labour Day on May 1, trade unions through their leaders may reflect on this law in their statements to mark this important Centenary Year of lawful trade unionism. This Trade Unions Act provides for the Regulation and Registration of trade unions to enable them to function in good standing within the law. The then British Guiana Labour Union became the first trade union to register on July 21, 1921. (Ashton Chase a History of Trade Unionism in Guyana)

This Trade Unions Act imposes obligations on trade unions to enable them to carefully manage the affairs of trade unions as good and faithful union stewards, in a transparent and publicly accountable manner. Some of the main provisions of the Trade Unions Act include:

* The purpose of any trade union shall not be unlawful so as to invalidate any agreement (Section 5).

* The Act protects trade unions against action of tort and breach of contract or agreement or trust in pursuance of a trade dispute (Sections 7 and 8).

* The prohibition of trade unions from conducting union business, and to function, unless legally registered with the Registrar of Trade Unions in accordance with this Act. (Sections 11-12).

* The Act also provides for the property of the unions to be vested in trustees, (trustees cannot hold offices in the same union), for legal action by or against trustees, and limitation of responsibility of trustees (Section 16-21).

On Financial Accountability, the Trade Union Act expressly requires every treasurer or other officers of unions to render to the trustees, and the members of the union at a duly constituted meeting of the union, a just and true account of monies received and paid, funds remaining, and all bonds and securities of the union. The trustees are required to submit to the auditor general for audit within 14 days of the receipt of the account from the treasurer (Section 22).

The Act further stipulates the requirements and conditions in relation to the registration with the registrar of union rules, the registered office of the unions; withdrawal or cancellation of certificate of registration; a change of union’s name; amalgamation of unions; registration of change of name and amalgamation, and dissolution of the union (Sections 25-33).
Annual Return and Registrar’s Reports

Section 35 of the Act imposes an obligation on every registered trade union to present to the registrar a general statement of receipts, funds, effects, and expenditure before the May 1 in every year. The statement must show fully the assets and liabilities of the preceding year and must be prepared together with such information and in the manner stipulated in this Act.

The registrar of trade unions is required to lay before the National Assembly, annual reports with respect to matters transacted by the registrar in keeping with the requirements of the Trade Unions Act (Section 36).

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) and Trade Unions

The International Labour Conference of the ILO at its 35th session adopted a Resolution in 1952 concerning the independence of the trade union movement and the principles for establishment of freedom of association and good industrial relations. The resolution affirmed that a stable, free and independent trade union movement is an essential condition for good industrial relations and should contribute to the improvement of social conditions of workers; the principles which should be laid down in this regard, which are essential to protect the freedom and independence of the trade union movement and its fundamental task of advancing the social and economic well-being of the workers,

The resolution affirmed that:

* the fundamental and permanent mission of the trade union movement is the economic and social advancement of the workers;

* the trade unions also have an important role to perform in cooperation with governments and employers’ organisations in promoting social and economic development and the advancement of the national community as a whole;

* it is essential for the trade union movement in each country to preserve its freedom and independence, so as to be in a position to carry forward its economic and social mission, irrespective of political changes;

* a condition for such freedom and independence is that trade unions be constituted as to membership without regard to race, national origin or political affiliations, and pursue their trade union objectives on the basis of the solidarity and economic and social interests of all workers.

* When trade unions in accordance with national law and practice, and on the decision of their members decide to establish relations with a political party, or to undertake constitutional political action as a means towards the advancement of their economic and social objectives, such political relations or actions should not be of such a nature as to compromise the continuance of the trade union movement or its social and economic functions, irrespective of political changes in the country.

* Governments in seeking the cooperation of trade unions to carry out their economic and social policies should recognise that the value of this cooperation rests to a large extent on the freedom and independence of the trade union movement as an essential factor in promoting social advancement and should not attempt to transform the trade union movement into an instrument for the pursuance of political aims, nor should they attempt to interfere with the normal functions of a trade union movement, because of its freely established relationship with a political party.

On Labour Day, May 1, 2021, the trade unions and the trade union movement and their leaders are called upon and challenged to let their membership and the Guyanese public know how accountable and faithful they have been over the last decade in meeting all their obligations and requirements under the Trade Union Act as outlined above.

Similarly, the registrar of trade unions; the trustees of trade unions; trade union treasurers; the Clerk of the National Assembly and the Auditor General, in faithful discharge and in the integrity of their responsibilities under this Trade Unions Act, Chapter 98:03, must inform the concerned parties and the public on the state of affairs in relation to their statutory duties under this Act



Samuel J. Goolsarran

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