Letter simply pointed to legal deficiencies in the order

Dear Editor,

In your issue of July 23, 2013, you published a joint letter by Messrs Joseph and Witter and another by Mr Yarde, purportedly in response to a letter I wrote and which was published in your edition of July 19, 2013, but were indeed personal attacks against me.

Messrs Witter and Joseph said that I attacked the minimum wage of $35,000, and the five-day work week. Their first deception: The only time I mentioned $35,000 was to ask if a nurse will receive $35,000 per month; that is not attacking it.

They then said that because I asked whether a developing country can afford to have the wheels of production going for 5 days or the increase in the cost of production by overtime pay and risk limiting access to overseas markets, I am showing preference for big business.

I am a Guyanese; I never contemplated having a green card, so anything that affects the country economically affects me. I now ask — was an economic survey done to assess the impact on the economy a 5 day work week will have? Since Messrs Witter and Joseph claim that along with Mr Goolsarran they comprised the sub-committee that agreed on the provisions of the order, can they say when, where and how a survey was done, also, can they say who or which organisations the sub-committee met.

They saw no relevance to the order of the Teemal case; they are right, but they did not seem to comprehend what I wrote. The Teemal case was cited with respect to the Explanatory Note, which states that there is a prescribed wage for public servants.

I know the Maqharudeen case as well as the D T Singh case, but the Factories (Hours and Holidays) Act is not under discussion.

They claim that the format of the order is exactly the same one used for decades by the ministry and myself when I was Chief Labour Officer dealing with the minimum wage. Are they blind? Anyone can compare those done by me and this one and see the difference.

They say that much more was done in accordance with the law on this issue than I ever attempted to do when I was CLO; they were referring to consultation and legal procedures. I challenge them to cite one example. For the record I should say that the following were drafted by me, fully discussed and enacted by Parliament, and although they all improved workers’ welfare there was no protest:

Labour (Amendment) Act, No. 20 of 1994; Licensed Premises (Amendment) Act No. 17 of 1994; Shops (Miscel-laneous Enactment) (Amendment) Act, 18 of 1997; Labour (Conditions of Employment of Certain Workers) (Amendment) Act, No. 18 of 1994’ Employment of Young Persons and Children (Amendment) Act No. 9 of 1999; Bakeries (Hours of Work) (Amendment) Act No. 19 of 1994. The Holidays, now Leave with Pay Act, was repealed and replaced with a new Act in 1995, providing leave for all employees. The following were enacted in 1997: – Occupational Safety & Health Act ‒ drafted by the ILO; Prevention of Discrimination Act ‒ drafted by the ILO; Termination of Employment and Severance Pay Act ‒ ILO; Trade Union Recognition Act ‒ PNC government.

Some consultations took as long as 4 years. In the book I wrote titled Rights of Employers and Employees in Guyana dealing with consultations, I said on page 78: “Minister of Labour, Dr. Henry Jeffrey was an epitome of patience.” The same for minimum wage orders. Consultations were not cosmetic.

Messrs Witter and Joseph wrote a lot about their consultations and the remarks by the HPS and the Minister, but I say to them that those remarks cannot suffice, and even if the committee had spoken to each and every Guyanese throughout the length and breadth of Guyana the law would still not have been complied with as it relates to making an order under section 8. They said that Mr Goolsarran was discussing it with private sector organisations; from remarks from those organisations, it seems he never did. The committee never met them, so what kind of consultation are they talking about?

They said that the new hours of work are historic, in that for the first time it’s being implemented in independent Guyana. How wrong.

They should read the ‘Report of the National Working Hours Committee on the Implementation of the Five Day Work Week in the Public Sector in Guyana,’ dateline September, 1987. That would enlighten them about the agencies where it was implemented and some of the reasons why others could not do it, and it will give them a lesson on how consultations should be done. I was privileged to be a member of that committee.

They say I was making out a case for garment manufacturers who were given a free rein since it was felt that they were at an initial stage of job creation and tapping into the overseas market. I now know the reason for the break; my Minister came from Cabinet and told me to delete the garment factories order without giving me a reason, so who gave these two writers the inside information?

But, here again they miss my point; I said that companies with contractual obligations such as garment factories and security firms should have been given adequate notice to renegotiate contracts.

Mr Yarde spoke of the 1999 strike by the PSU and claimed that the union rejected my involvement. That, however, did not prevent me being involved throughout. He would attempt to reject anyone who did not agree with the chaining and padlocking of government offices, physically assaulting those who reported for work, damaging public and private property, bringing Georgetown to a virtual standstill. His complaint to the ILO, case No 2187, was killed after I responded. So I am not surprised at his venom.

Again I ask, why the attack? In my letter I asked some practical questions and pointed out some of the legal deficiencies in the order so that the government can rectify them leaving no loophole for non-compliance.

Messrs Witter and Joseph saw where I asked whether the country can afford a 5 day work week but their  eyes did not allow them to see the last paragraph where I stated that if the government finds that I am correct about the law that they repeal the order and make another one done professionally. I even commended the government. Any rational person reading my letter would conclude that I did not criticize the intent of the order or asked that it be scrapped.

Whose interest are these three trade unionists serving? Surely not the workers! Fighting to have a law that is defective and which may be unenforceable is not in the workers’ interest; employers would benefit.

Editor, this is my final say on this issue. The government can leave or amend the order. The CLO promised (SN, July 20) to issue a release early the next week, but two weeks went by and instead we had the two letters; the conflicts in the law remain unanswered.

An aside ‒ it’s good to see the heads of the TUC, FITUG and the separatist union joining forces. Labour Day, 2014, should see one rally so the Minister of Labour will not address the opposition only, but government as well.

Yours faithfully,
Mohamed Akeel

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