TUC sought dialogue with the groups in the National Assembly to arrive at a consensus position on the right to work

Dear Editor,
Response is made to F. Skinner’s statement and questions in the letter `By what means will the TUC enforce legislation to prevent another workers fiasco like Marriott?’, Stabroek News, 3rd April, 2013.

Excerpt 1: “That meeting seemed to break the back of the protest. Mr. Lewis’ parting words in his letter were, `The TUC’s goal is to effect and enforce legislation to avoid a re-occurrence of the Marriott.’ Effect and enforce legislation? By what means I ask? And, to avoid a re-occurrence? Hasn’t this happened many times before with the potential of happening again?”

Response: – When the meeting took place on 7th March, the organisers of the protest had already come off the exercise. The Guyana Trades Union Congress (TUC) never organised any picketing or protest on the Marriott issue. The TUC participated in these exercises which were organised by the political opposition. Hence, the meeting cannot in any shape or form be held liable for breaking the back of the protest. Further, the opposition was also written on the said issue.
To Skinner’s questions, the following should be noted:

a)      The reason the TUC sought dialogue with the groups in the National Assembly is to arrive at a consensus position on a matter of national import, i.e. “the right and the duty to work” for Guyanese. This approach is consistent with the structure of governance, which requires involvement of stakeholders in decision- making that affects their well-being and the TUC’s responsibility under Article 149C of the Constitution.

b)      The National Assembly/ Parliament is the nation’s highest decision-making forum and tasked with the responsibility of oversight and law making.

c)      It is hoped, based on long held belief and practice, when persons are involved in decision-making they are more likely to feel responsibility for its success. And while the enforcement of the law is the responsibility of State agencies, it is hoped with the people having a vested interest in creating these laws they would be equally interested in policing and demanding the laws be respected.

d)     The TUC is unaware of any previous contract which allowed the denial of Guyanese to work.
e)      Collective bargaining is a bedrock of trade unions’ pursuit of their goals. And to say to the TUC that it ought not to engage an employer or principal decision-maker is to take away a key instrument that gives meaning to the trade union existence on behalf of the people.

It is instructive that while the TUC made known that it wrote the Leader of Government Business in the House (Sam Hinds), the Leader of the Opposition (David Granger), and the Leader of the AFC (Khemraj Ramjattan) indicating our desire to have legislation put in place to protect Guyanese workers, offence is taken to the TUC’s engagement with the government, who has a responsibility for signing these contracts and is also part of the National Assembly. No objection is taken to engaging the opposition who by themselves cannot stop what has taken place in the absence of the requisite laws and oversight.

Excerpt 2:- “Mr. Lewis’ letter did not answer the concerns of a lot of people – concerns of business as usual at the Marriott job site and more importantly he did not explain what impact the quest for the renewal of the subvention for the college had on the matter, as discussed at the meeting or behind the scenes.”

Response: – What concerns and explanation are Skinner alluding to?  The meeting was recorded and in its entirety and those interested had the opportunity to bear witness. This meeting was also attended by the Private Sector Commission (PSC) who posed questions and made comments on behalf of their constituents.

In Hinds’ request to engage the TUC he indicated other issues he wanted to discuss. The TUC also made known its areas of interest and this included the return of the State subvention, the industrial dispute between the Guyana Bauxite & General Workers Union (GB&GWU) and the Bauxite Company of Guyana Incorporated (BCGI). The TUC has nothing to hide and in fact sought to have the meeting recorded to avoid these very innuendoes now being made.

The TUC is not an outlaw organisation that is involved in guerilla warfare. And this organisation is not unmindful to suggestion (s) to achieve the goal (the right and the duty to work), but such much be buttressed by universal principles and guided by the nation’s constitution. To take the position that the TUC should not talk without recommending measure(s) to move the process forward creates the impression of opposition for opposing sake. If persons feel so strongly against talking they should at least have a cogent position how the citizens’ rights can be secured without engagement with a group (executive) under whose purview contracts are conceptualised, developed and signed on behalf of the people.

Finally, it is not the sole responsibility of the TUC to secure the right to work for our fellow man. It is a civic duty and responsibility of every group and individual since employment is tied to personal and national development and plays a role in eliminating crimes, reducing poverty, and ensuring longevity. Each and every one of us has a role to play in asking, what can I do for my country and fellow man, and act in accordance.
Yours faithfully,
Lincoln Lewis

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