Monday, November 16, 2015

It is not the government’s role to accuse a trade union of a political motive

Dear Comrades,
Here we reproduce a letter written by Staff Writer Lincoln Lewis on 12thNovember, 2015 to the Editor Stabroek News (published inhttp://www.stabroeknews.com)  relating to the problems of Guyana Agricultural and General Workers' Union. The points raised by the writer are almost similar in nature for each worker/trade union/Govt.
Kindly have a look.

Dear Editor,
Issues of industrial relations are not about how one feels, but about a body of rules and applications that guide the discipline. The current approach in handling industrial relations grievances, be it in bauxite, sugar, public service or other, ought not to be done without regard to protected fundamental rights and freedoms, the constitution, laws and international trade agreements. Thirty years ago rights and freedoms were not part of trade and development agreements. As such some actions within countries would have been overlooked by the international community, unlike what is taking place today. The current trade agreement between the European Union and Cariforum, which Guyana has signed on to, has ensconced a chapter that attends to the social responsibility of the parties, which includes protection of the right to join a trade union of choice and collective bargaining. Given that the present approach to development is guided by a number of tools and not gut-feeling, unless efforts are made to identify and adhere to these tools, a country can likely be sanctioned at the international level for violations and transgressing international protocols. The perception that the impasse in the sugar industry is politically engineered has nothing to do with the rights of the workers to pursue, through their union, collective bargaining as protected in Section 23(1) of the Trade Union Recognition Act and Article 147 of the Guyana Constitution.

In pursuing justice in society the government has the greater responsibility, and in industrial relations there are two agencies that the government is expected to deal with:- the employer and the workers’ organisation (trade union). It is not the role of government, however tempting it may be, to vocalise the accusation that a trade union’s motive is political, because the government also risks being accused of seeking to trample on the rights of workers under the guise of political accusations. Moreso such accusation creates the environment for pitting groups against each other. The fact the GuySuCo has been able to say, without being upbraided, that it will not enter into collective bargaining with the union on a wage increase is in itself giving tacit support to the breaking of the law. Doing this is also to give support to the Jagdeo and Ramotar regimes’ imposition of wages/salary increases on public servants and their refusal to hold the Bauxite Company of Guyana Incorporated (BGCI) accountable to the law in regard to the outstanding grievances of bauxite workers.

GAWU’s wage proposal has been with the management of GuySuCo since March. Management of an organisation is a day to day process and there exists a legal agreement between the union and company as to how grievances will be settled. Management cannot take its own time to engage the union on matters of import. The same principle holds true for public servants, bauxite workers and every management where unions exist.

The law expressly says a collective labour agreement between a company and union is legal unless otherwise stated. While workers may not be downing tools protesting, the industrial relations climate is far from what is expected, since these are issues that impact rights and freedoms. Guyana can be taken to the international forum and be censored for violating these sacred tenets. For while the PPP got away with some violations, the fact that as a political organisation it gives support to the posture and positions of GAWU, it is likely that the party will use its political clout at the international level to have this government censored. To avoid these unpleasantries and a tarnished reputation the government has to proceed judiciously. This requires an understanding of roles. For while an attorney-at-law in a court has a responsibility to represent his client and present arguments to that effect, in government the role becomes applying the law, in its strictest sense, including respect for its spirit and intent. Respect for fundamental rights and freedoms ought to guide and be the cornerstone in applying decisions and recommendations, particularly by government and government institutions. The tenuous industrial relations climate reinforces the need for a Ministry of Labour, whose traditional task has been to develop and implement policies that would impact on a number of cross-cutting issues, including the accumulation of unresolved grievances. Further, the Minister of Labour is the nation’s chief conciliator in issues pertaining to industrial and labour relations.

Government is duty bound to do what is right for the society and its people.
Yours faithfully,
Lincoln Lewis

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