The UGSSA and UGWU have been continuously engaged by the university as the bargaining agents for the workers

Dear Editor,

Reference is made to the letter ‘UG unions should reconsider their plans for continued stoppages’ written by Dr Prem Misir in his capacity as Pro-Chancellor of the University of Guyana (Stabroek News, February 19).  From the outset Dr Misir needs to understand the tenor of his letter constitutes a threat to the constitutional right (Article 147) to freedom of association and collective bargaining for members of University of Guyana Senior Staff Association (UGSSA) and the University of Guyana Workers Union (UGWU).

Both the employer and workers are advised of the following:

1. The determination of  breach of contract is not within the purview of the employer, it is the responsibility of the adjudicator, which in the industrial relations setting will be an arbitrator, either agreed to by the employer and union or imposed by the Minister of Labour.

2.  On the UGSSA and UGWU being recognized as bargaining agents at the University of Guyana, it is the Trade Union Recognition Board (TURB) that is vested with the authority to pronounce on this.

As per the current record of the TURB all the existing unions in the country have been written to asking that they provide their Certificate of Recognition, since while in the past the Board has issued those certificates, at present it does not have copies of them. What is of import here is that UGSSA and UGWU have been continuously engaged by the university as the bargaining agents for the workers, and there is a union dues check-off system that is administered by both the unions and the university. For Dr Misir to therefore raise the question of the legal relationship, constitutes union busting and denying workers their fundamental rights.

3.  Article 147 (2) of the Guyana Constitution states: “except with his or her own consent no person shall be hindered in the enjoyment of his or her freedom to strike.”

4.  Dr Misir’s reference to the Trade Union Recognition Act 1997, Section 2 (i) which speaks to industrial action is deception and must be condemned given that a) the university recognizes the existence of industrial action and the same is so indicated by the unions and accepted by the university and b) there is an engagement on the part of Dr Misir with the unions and an attempt to find a resolution to the impasse.

5.  Further it is also an acceptance by the university of the unions’ legality, therefore any action by the university that seeks to undermine its original position of engagement with the union is divisive and in contravention of the Trade Union Recognition Act Chapter (1997), Section 23 (1), Compulsory Recognition and Duty to Treat, which expressly states: “Where a trade union obtains a certificate of recognition for workers comprised in a bargaining unit in accordance with this Part, the employer shall recognise the union, and the union and the employer shall bargain in good faith and enter into negotiations with each other for the purpose of collective bargaining.”

This impasse has been in the public domain for several weeks. From what Dr Misir has said his engagement with the ministry has been one of co-opting them to join with the university to disregard the workers’ rights. According to the labour law the ministry’s role is to bring the parties together to find a resolution. Since the university is now on record as  saying it sought the involvement of the Ministry of Labour, the ministry has a responsibility to bring both parties to the table and have this matter resolved, lest it be perceived that the industrial relations climate post November 2011 will be a continuation of the violation of labour laws and the transgressing of workers’ rights.

Yours faithfully,
Lincoln Lewis
General Secretary
Guyana Trades Union Congress
Trade Union Recognition and
Certification Board

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