The opposition yesterday struck back at the “uncompromising” Trades Union Congress (TUC) for its rejection of the terms for the restoration of the subvention to the Critchlow Labour College (CLC) saying that its stance was unfortunate.
“It’s a pity,” chairman of APNU Dr. Rupert Roopnaraine told Stabroek News pointing out that there was complete unanimity in the National Assembly on the matter. “I am sorry that they are taking it the way they are.”
The TUC on Friday repudiated the terms of a consensus agreement in the National Assembly for the restoration of the annual subvention to the CLC, which had been cut by the government eight years ago over accountability concerns. Contending that the opposition had been duped by the government, GTUC General Secretary Lincoln Lewis told reporters that the union movement was “not prepared to sell its rights to the government or to any other.”
Following a heated debate on Thursday in Parliament on a motion for the restoration of the CLC subvention, the opposition agreed with a government proposal for the TUC’s rival, the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Guyana (FITUG) to have the same number of members as the TUC on the board. The rejection of this agreement by the TUC reopens old labour divisions with the government-allied FITUG and is seen as deeply embarrassing to the opposition.
Lewis had stressed that while the motion to restore the funds was a timely one the National Assembly cannot dictate who should sit on the CLC’s Board as it was a private institution. He called the move by the House a violation of the constitution, by-laws of CLC and disregard for the right to freedom of association.
However, Roopnaraine said yesterday that it was not correct to say that Parliament tampered with the structure of the college. “We have not tampered with the structure of the board,” he said while noting that according to the statutes, the trade unions can have eight representatives on the board.
He emphasized that the principle that they wanted to ensure is that the board would be representative of the entire trade union movement. He was hopeful that the TUC would come around. “I’m hoping we can have a discussion with the TUC or meet and forge some kind of compromise with them,” Roopnaraine said.
Leader of the AFC Khemraj Ramjattan slated the TUC for its rejection of the terms. He said that he was extremely disappointed by the cavalier response of the body and said that the AFC committed to the terms thinking that the TUC was going to compromise on governance before they could accept taxpayers’ money.
Government, which is usually hardline over such issues made a huge compromise, Ramjattan said, while adding that given its track record, the PPP’s stance was a “progressive development.” Like Roopnaraine, he said that the AFC was not changing the governance structure of the CLC. “We were saying if CLC wants taxpayers’ dollars then they will have to make the change,” he said, adding that the AFC was not demanding that it be done. “If the government did not want to support (the motion) that was the end of the matter,” he pointed out.
Ramjattan said that he personally asked trade unionist Norris Witter who was present at Parliament about the terms and he said “it seems a forward motion.” The AFC leader said that this was his sentiment too and the stance of the TUC is “most unfortunate.”
The AFC leader added that the TUC’s position is another example of the uncompromising nature of local politics and if the body does not want to change the governance structure of the CLC to the extent of accommodating representatives of FITUG, it was the poor who are going to suffer. He said that he would have preferred that the government restore the subvention without any conditions but this was the deal they got. He added that he cannot see how the TUC “can so cavalierly throw that out the window.”
Ramjattan said that he is not at this stage, prepared to engage the TUC on the matter.
“They have totally trashed us and embarrassed us,” he said while noting that AFC parliamentarian Trevor Williams in whose name the motion was tabled and who piloted it though the House, was a product of the institution and was looking at its interest. “I thought at least the TUC should have been a lot more reasonable in their response,” the AFC leader said. “They themselves don’t want to compromise.”
During the debate, Williams, said that the CLC had been struggling financially since its subvention was cut eight years ago.
On the other hand, members of the government stressed that it was not feasible giving state funds to the institution that they said had problems with financial management. They then floated a compromise, saying that if there was an agreement to share its board representation equally with its historic rival FITUG, they would support the motion.
The opposition gave in to a government request for Williams’ motion to be amended and to cater for a 4-4 representation on the board in return for the restoration of an annual subvention, a figure last stated at some $32 million plus.
When Williams’ amended resolution was put to the vote, it was approved by 61 parliamentarians. The remaining four others were not in the House at the time of the vote.
In addition to the proposed 4-4 membership for the TUC and FITUG, Lewis had pointed out that the board also has a representative each from the ministries of Education and Labour, which would effectively give the government six seats on the board to the TUC’s four.