General Secretary of the Guyana Trades Union Congress Lincoln Lewis is calling on the opposition to take the matter of the government’s removal of the subvention and grants to the Critchlow Labour College (CLC), the Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC) and the Women Advisory Com-mittee (WAC) to the National Assembly.
In an address on Sunday at the launching of Critchlow Week activities Lewis said: “Today we call on the political opposition to take this case to the National Assembly… let the PPP say to the workers and citizens of this nation if we are in a Cold War era, or admit to their discriminatory policies.”
According to a copy of his address, Lewis said that the withholding of the subvention and grants “is a political matter and it requires a political solution.”
“As such we justly demand an accommodation in the National Assembly to make our case, the way it was done in days of yore and happens in other countries that respect the Legislature as the Peoples’ House.”
Lewis said that thanks to Hubert Nathaniel Critchlow, the father of trade unionism in the British Commonwealth, the Guyana Constitution has enshrined the role of Labour in national development and since these rights and responsibilities are constitutionally granted the GTUC would not discard or disregard them, neither will they let anyone take them away.
“The GTUC and its attendant arms have a right to exist and play its role in national development. The efforts by the PPP to undermine our civic duty by withholding our moneys will continue to be met with resistance from us,” Lewis asserted.
The GTUC General Secretary noted that they are “also aware that unions friendly to the PPP are in receipt of State funding.
“So this is not a question of refusal to invest in workers but this is a question where the government has taken a conscious discriminatory position that they will not invest in some workers,” Lewis charged. He noted that thanks to the Critchlow Labour College named after Critchlow, many politicians, government and private sector workers benefit from education and training when “he had very little, but dreamed of others having more.”
Lewis maintained that “rights are non-negotiable and if back then the non-negotiable (nature) of our rights were respected, today we will not compromise them in the fight to restore our subvention and grants, in the fight to restore what is justly ours.”
Lewis charged the PPP administration with failing to uphold the legacies of Critchlow.
“This is the party that promotes itself as working class but this party viciously persecutes labour and transgresses the rights of workers,” Lewis contended.
He recounted that the CLC received a state subvention from its inception in 1968 and the 2004 National Budget approved a subvention but the government refused to disburse the money. The subvention was returned in 2005, 2006 and was taken away in mid-2007.
Lewis said that publicly, then Minister of Education Shaik Baksh and Labour Minister Manzoor Nadir gave conflicting information in parliament as to the reason for denying the money – one claimed that the college’s books had to be audited before the funds were released and the other said the funds were being withheld and would be reintroduced when there was unity in the trade union movement.
According to Lewis, the claim of trade union disunity cannot stand because it was this government that made legitimate the divisions in the movement with the Trade Union Recognition and Certification Board (TURCB) legally constituted to accommodate the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Guyana (FITUG) as a parallel group to the GTUC.
He also maintained that the college never had an accountability problem since from the inception of state funding the moneys were placed in a special account and every quarter it was audited by the Auditor General’s Office.
“The reason for such a decision is that though the college is a non-state entity, it plays a pivotal role in national education, and being in receipt of state funding we felt it was incumbent to account to the people for the management of their money. This system was in place when the then Auditor General was instructed by the Office of the President to audit the college’s private income. The Auditor General said the government’s request could not be executed since the law does not grant him the authority to audit private income. At no time had the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Labour or any state entity sought official engagement with the college on any matter relating to the subvention in as much as the college has reached out.”
Lewis explained that the college received a subvention because of its role in training, education and development, personal and national. It caters to remedial education, giving persons a second chance to write the Caribbean Examinations; meeting educational requirements to get a job; offers pre-requisite education to enter the University of Guyana, Cyril Potter College of Education and other tertiary institutions. It also offers trade union/human rights training and education, and professional education such as Project Management, Human Resources Manage-ment, Accounting, Shipping, and Marketing. The non-trade union programmes are offered at minimal cost to allow persons access to affordable education.
The college is owned by the GTUC, with its main office in Georgetown and branches in Corriverton and Linden. Its objective is not profit making but the delivery of service to workers – past, present and potential; union and non-unionised, in their pursuit of development. The college has a Board that includes representatives appointed by the Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of Education.
The GTUC and WAC received yearly grants from 1972 which the PPP took away in 2002. Under the law the Auditor General audits the books of all trade unions, so the rumour of lack of accountability is built on falsification to mask discrimination, Lewis declared.
“Labour calls on the opposition to work with us in bringing our case to the House the way Critchlow, Jagan, Burnham and others did. Let us stand before the beneficiaries of Critchlow and have them tell us why other Guyanese must not have the opportunities they have, and our Constitution must not be respected to the letter,” Lewis challenged.