The government has made no provision for the Critchlow Labour College (CLC) in this year’s national budget, an act described by the CLC Board of Directors as “symptomatic of the dangerous times we live in.”
The monthly subvention of $2.9 million has been withheld since August 2007 in spite of protests from several quarters.
In a press statement he read on behalf of the board, Secretary Lincoln Lewis said that the withdrawal of the subvention and subsequently no provision in the national budget for the college sent a clear signal that the party in government was prepared to use taxpayers’ money as a vice to control and deny workers an education and ultimately the opportunity to productively participate in national development.
He said that on account of the withdrawal of the subvention the CLC was forced to lay off six staff members, including four at the non-management level and two administrative assistants. The CLC also scrapped the posts of five heads of departments and replaced those positions with two coordinators.
The withdrawal has also severely affected the enrolment which is down to 400 students from 1,500. However, the CLC does not anticipate increasing student fees or reintroducing some programmes immediately.
Minister of Education Shaik Baksh recently said in Parliament that the fractured trade union movement has to resolve its issues as a pre-condition for further subventions to the Guyana Trades Union Congress and the Critchlow Labour College.
Responding to a question by Sheila Holder of the Alliance For Change, Baksh said subventions were not a right to be enjoyed. He said that even though the subventions were approved by Parliament, agencies that get them still have to fulfil certain conditions.
According to Chairman of the Board of Governors Andrew Garnett, the government had asked for a work plan for 2007, as well as audited reports for 2004, 2005 and 2006. He said all of these had been submitted and he had written to the ministers of Finance and Education, and sent copies to the Office of the President, requesting that the subvention be disbursed. The situation remains unchanged.
Lewis noted yesterday that the GTUC on January 9, 2008 mandated the current serving members of the board to continue until the next Annual General Meeting with the aim of implementing a programme of activities that will ensure the CLC’s financial viability and independence.
Board Chairman Garnett, he said, was currently heading a committee that is monitoring the day-to-day activities to ensure that its objectives are achieved.
A and B grades
Meanwhile, the CLC has just received its results for the London-based Association of Business Executives examinations with the 20 students who wrote the examinations receiving A and B grades. In these examinations students are taught in business administration, business information systems, and travel, tourism and hospitality.
In addition the CLC offers a range of programmes including the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) offered by the Caribbean Examinations Council.
Owing to the withdrawal of the subvention, Lewis said that the college had to put on hold a number of associate degree programmes in regional labour studies, including human resource development, project resources and occupational health and safety which it had planned implementing in conjunction with its sister college in Trinidad and Tobago, the Cipriani College of Labour. These programmes are recognized by the University of the West Indies.
The CLC was established in 1967 to provide worker education and the college has been receiving a government subvention for decades.
Lewis said the government has denied the CLC a subvention until there is unity in the trade union movement. That position he reiterated was unjustified, had no merit and would not stand the test of scrutiny in any objective forum.
He said the issue of unity was never a pre-condition for the CLC to receive a subvention. If that were the case he said that the CLC would have never received it since the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) was not a member when the first subvention was given. In 1988 when the seven unions walked out of the GTUC, the CLC continued to receive its subvention. “People need to be wary of government’s efforts to compromise rights and principles,” he said.
While cabinet refuses to pay the subvention, he noted that the CLC has identified at least one government minister who “now sits with his peers to deny persons the opportunities he has benefited from.” Though he did not name the minister, Stabroek News understands that the current Minister of Agriculture Robert Persaud is a graduate of the CLC.
The withdrawal of the subventions “by hiding behind an unjustified smokescreen,” he said, “is symptomatic of the dangerous times we live in, that will cause the political administration to stoop to such levels to execute its discriminatory acts.”
As the country continues to witness the day-to-day trampling of human rights under dubious guise, he said, young people are again the target in which sections of the society are being denied opportunities to jobs and improvement in their living conditions as well as being able to articulate their rights and concerns and provide for self and family. And this means that they cannot constructively take part in nation-building that would ensure a sense of belonging, he added.