The Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC) on Wednesday vowed to mount a vigorous campaign against the Trade Union Recognition (Amendment) Act which could see the rival union group, FITUG, having a greater role.
Categorising the law as one that would emasculate the trade union movement, General Secretary of the GTUC, Norris Witter also forecast a challenging year for the labour movement.
Speaking at a press conference at the Critchlow Labour College, he expressed the view that a legal challenge to the Bill may not be the best option. “It is my view that it would not be prudent for the TUC to proceed to have this matter resolved through the medium of the justice system,” he told reporters, pointing out that there are a number of matters pending before the courts for over a decade. He cited the challenge to the composition of the Integrity Commission by the People’s National Congress which had been filed since 2005 and has not been resolved. He declared that there are serious questions as it relates to the independence of the judiciary and the magistracy.
Witter asserted that the trade union movement will have to struggle to have the Act repealed “in the manner that we know using all the avenues that are available to us.” He said that this included protests, demonstrations, picketing, strikes, go-slow, civil disobedience or boycotts, which would have to be used appropriately and effectively and would have the most impact.
The Acting General Secretary, without stating the name of anyone, said that a trade unionist, who is a Member of Parliament on the PPP bench, had suggested a few days ago that the Bill is intended to break the monopoly of the GTUC on the Trade Union Recognition and Certification Board (TURCB). Witter declared that this was not so and asserted that the intention of the Bill is to emasculate the entire trade union movement. He stated that the Bill is intended to “entrench the PPP dictatorship” and the role of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Guyana (FITUG) and the unions therein is to “legitimize” the government actions.
He contended that FITUG will replace the GTUC on all local boards, including the TURCB, the Tripartite Committee among others and with a compliant labour centre (FITUG) and a compliant employers’ representative, the passage of anti-labour legislation will become au fait accompli. He stated that with the Bill, the government can manipulate the factors and declared that the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) and the National Association of Agricultural, Commercial and Industrial Employees (NAACIE) which are members of FITUG have historically been related to the PPP.
He declared that every law proposed by the government, whether anti-union, ‘union busting’ or inimical to the interest of labour will be legitimized by that body while asserting that it is the legitimisation of dictatorial action by the state and the new TURCB will comprise of persons other than the state representatives who are compliant with the wishes of the state.
The Bill amended the Trade Union Recognition Act of 1997, providing for “the most representative” organizations of workers and employers to be consulted by the Minister of Labour for the appointments of members of the Trade Union Recognition and Certification Board. The most representative organization of workers and employers will also have to be consulted in the Board’s making of its rules instead of the most representative association of trade unions and employers and Minister of Labour, Manzoor Nadir, during his presentation in the National Assembly, when the Bill was passed had stated that of the 250,000 workers, who make up the labour force, roughly 20% or 50,000 are unionized. He had stated that FITUG, which comprises GAWU, NAACIE, CCWU (the Clerical and Commercial Workers Union) and GLU (Guyana Labour Union) has a registered membership of 34,000 against the GTUC which comprises 13 unions and a membership of 15,000. He had based the figures on statistics provided by the registrar of unions as well as the auditor’s general office.
On Wednesday, Witter said the figures were not accurate. He noted that the GTUC’s initial objection was in relation to the process pointing out that prior to the promulgation of the Trade Union Recognition and Certification Act of 1997, there was a prolonged and intense process of consultation between and among the Ministry of Labour, the Private Sector Commission and the TUC so that the Act was a product of consultation between and among the tripartite parties. He asserted that the TUC argument was and still is that the TUC deserves to have a level of consultation no less than that which went into the formulation of the 1997 Act. He declared that consultation is a critical component of the social partner relationship and the process is not to be taken lightly.
He stated that had there been consultation, other issues with which the TUC had concerns would have been attended to.
Meanwhile, Witter said that the labour movement will be severely challenged this year asserting that a wage or salary freeze in the traditional public service and the public sector is a real possibility. He stated that attempts to increase the normal working hours from eight to ten hours will have to be resisted as will attempts to increase the National Insurance Scheme pensionable age from 60 to 65.
The Acting General Secretary of the GTUC said that the body will support its affiliates and all unions in their struggle for a fair wage or salary for the working people.
He commented that the unions are waiting on a number of developments before taking action, and is carefully watching what will be presented in the budget, monitoring the state of the economy, observing occurrences in the sugar industry belt, among others and “at the appropriate time, we will determine the nature, the form that the struggle would take, where the theatre of the struggle and how the struggle will be accelerated.”