There isn’t any public outcry or protest which will deter the PPP/C government from passing a bill they intend to pass. The current outcry against the Trades Union Recognition [Amendment] Act is the result of another attempt by the government to control every space, and stifle independence and self-advancement.
Prior to the passing of the original bill in 1997, there were engagements and agreements among the Minister of Labour (MOL), the Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC) and the Consultative Association of Guyanese Industries (CAGI). The commitment made by the MOL was never honoured. On the passing of the bill, Cyril Belgrave, a PPP MP, was identified to chair the Trade Union Recognition Board (TURB). The GTUC objected to Belgrave’s appointment, as it departed from the original understanding and spirit of the law to insulate trade union recognition from party political interference.
The TURB saw unions with political connections who organised new bargaining units receive prompt surveys and recognition. The record will show the same treatment was not meted out to the unions in the GTUC. When the GTUC unions organised workers and filed for recognition, within days of filing, an application from unions in FITUG would be submitted to the TURB asking for recognition of the said bargaining units organised by GTUC affiliates. The FITUG unions’ counter application allowed the TURB to stop the recognition process. This has been the strategy of the government to prevent unions in the GTUC from expanding.
The intent of the 2009 Amendment to the Trade Union Recognition Act is another attempt by the government to empower FITUG, an institution resuscitated by the PPP affiliated GAWU and NAACIE after they disagreed with the GTUC about protesting the 1999 shooting of unarmed striking public servants. These very unions make a yearly pilgrimage on June 16 to the Enmore Martyrs Monument to pay homage to the sugar workers and condemn the 1948 police shooting of unarmed sugar workers.
As a founding member of the original FITUG, the federation activities were disbanded in 1993 when the unions returned to the GTUC after the rules were changed to accommodate proportional representation for every union at the decision-making table. Under this new GTUC rule, GAWU receives the largest representation because of its size. FITUG’s resuscitation was done without consultation with the principal founding members. This unethical behaviour is another example of the rogue culture characteristic of the PPP and its cohorts.
The current division in the labour movement is political, and engineered by the government. The administration does not engage the GTUC after it instigated FITUG’s resuscitation. The government has removed the GTUC’s representatives on state boards and commissions and replaced them with FITUG representatives. The yearly grants given to the GTUC and Critchlow College have been withdrawn. On the other hand, the government gives money to FITUG and its unions. In 2002 when bauxite was being privatized, President Jagdeo refused to engage the recognised unions because of their affiliation to the GTUC. Instead, the President instructed the formation of workers committees and had them sign agreements that the government never fulfilled. These committees had no legitimate bargaining rights, and as such advantage was taken of the workers through this process and the devastating effects still linger. As the government continues the division and marginalisation of the trade unions it hides behind empty calls for trade union unity, a call the government clearly does not believe, as can be seen by its actions.
Unity has to be premised on shared principles. In the trade union community it is built and sustained on the shared principles of justice and equality for all. If it was wrong to shoot armed sugar workers in 1948, it cannot be right to shoot unarmed public servants in 1999. If it is right to give FITUG and PPP supported unions state funding, then it cannot be right to take away state funding from GTUC and Critchlow Labour College. If it is right to promptly proceed with recognising the PPP unions’ bargaining units, then it cannot be right to deny non-PPP unions similar treatment. If it is right to save the pension plan of sugar workers, the government is wrong to destroy the bauxite workers’ pension plan. If it is right to honour the PPP unions’ collective bargaining agreements, it cannot be right for the government to refuse to honour same in non-PPP affiliated unions. If GAWU and NAACIE are allowed to negotiate for better wages and working conditions, the GPSU and other unions in the public sector must be allowed the same opportunities, rather than have the government ignore these unions and impose wage increases on public sector workers.
In other countries − Bahamas and Trinidad and Tobago − where two federations exist, governments engage both. In the Hoyte administration the principle of equality and justice was applied and respected. Both GTUC and unions in FITUG were consulted by Hoyte on issues of national import and specific to the unions’ bargaining units.
When bauxite workers struggled and won benefits, the Hoyte administration gave these benefits to the sugar workers though they did not fight for them. Hoyte’s decision was informed by the fact that both sugar and bauxite fall under the productive sector.
The Jagdeo administration does not believe in the principle of equality and justice, preferring instead the environment of injustice and inequality, and the oppression of the GTUC and unions whose leaders they cannot control.
A former PPP minister said the TURB is about power. I agree. It is about the misuse of power by this government to silence or weaken those who seek to protect workers’ gains and advance their well-being, and replace it by those comfortable using the workers’ power against them for a few pieces of silver.