It seems as if total confusion surrounds the National Minimum Wage Order

Dear Editor,

I had indicated that I would say no more on the issue of the National Minimum Wage but having been shown a copy of a letter dated August 11, 2013, written by Messrs Witter and Joseph making accusations against me I crave your indulgence to respond.

In their first letter Messrs Witter and Joseph accused me of attacking the National Minimum Wage; having debunked their claim, they changed their tune and now claim that I intended to embarrass officers in the Ministry of Labour.  I wish to say to them that I have no reason to do so.  I have a cordial relationship with the officers; whenever I am in Georgetown and I have the time (I live in Berbice) I would stop by and chat with officers including the Chief Labour Officer.  Any embarrassment is collateral.

The sectorial minimum wage orders made in 2012, had some obvious errors but I did not ‘embarrass’ anyone, I just discussed it with officers. For instance, a head bar tender and a bar tender were pegged at the same wage, as were the head waitress, waitress and cashier.

In 2011, the law was not followed in appointing members of the Trade Union Recognition and Certification Board.  I did not ‘embarrass’ anyone.

The Trade Union Recognition Act enacted in 1997, provides for the appointment of a Trade Union Recognition and Certification Board consisting of a chairman and employers and workers representatives.

Section 5(1)(b) of the Act stated, “three members appointed by the Minister on the nomination of such association as in his opinion is the most, representative association of trade unions.” As a consequence, the GTUC was the association nominating members as workers’ representatives. The same condition applied to the employers’ representatives and CAGI nominated the employers representatives.

However, in 2009, by Act No. 1 of 2009, the Principal Act was amended and Section 5(1)(ii) reads – “three members appointed by the Minister on the nomination of the most representative organisations of workers,” so “association of trade unions” was replaced by “most representative organisations of workers.”

When the Minister sought nominations from the GTUC and FITUG instead of the most representative trade unions he acted outside the law.  One may want to argue that the TUC and FITUG represent trade unions which in turn represent workers so by extension they are organisations representing workers.  That cannot be and was not the intent of the amendment; if that was the intention, all that was necessary was to change association to associations of trade unions.  Similarly, CAGI cannot be the sole employers’ organization to nominate members.

In 2013, the Board was reconstituted as required, and again the legal procedures were not followed.  Again I did not ‘embarrass’ anyone.  Messrs Witter and Joseph are not members of the Board, they should ask themselves if their appointments are legal and whether they would have been there if the law had been complied with.

In their first letter they said, “We recognize that there are some archaic laws under existing statutes and these were taken into consideration by the tripartite body.  These may have to be amended so as to bring them to modern day reality, thus, avoiding the issues of conflict raised by Mr Akeel.”  They reiterated that in their second letter. What is archaic about a law that provides for payment of overtime after 7 ¼ hours per day?  The new order provides for overtime after 40 hours per week, 8 hours per day, 5 days.  Which is better for the workers? These trade unionists!  There are conflicts which should have been taken into consideration when making the order.  You cannot make the order then amend the law; it’s like going to the dentist to put dentures and you tell the dentist put the dentures then extract the teeth.

They said that I am after the Minister of Labour, that I have taken umbrage at the Minister’s attendance at the TUC Labour Day rally 2013, which I described as an opposition rally and hinted that the Minister should have attended the government rally.  How ludicrous! I said nothing about an opposition rally or a government rally.  It was they who said that the Minister addressed the TUC May Day rally at which opposition politicians were present.  I said that since the head of the TUC, FITUG and PSU, which normally holds its own rally, have joined forces (to attack me) then Labour Day 2014, should see one rally so the Minister can speak to an audience consisting of both government and opposition.  The Minister of Labour is required to deal equitably with all the social partners and their respective organisations so it is good that the Minister was allowed to, not only attend, but to speak at the TUC rally, unlike the Prime Minister who was chased out by Mr Witter and group a year or two ago.  They now speak about a GAWU rally; if they have a problem with GAWU raise it with GAWU, don’t involve me.

They said I should come clean and deal with the person I perceive as an opposition and unpatriotic Guyanese. The minds of these men are running wild. It is they who should come clean and say what crime I committed for pointing out the discrepancies and anomalies in the order.  They seem not to know why they are attacking me; they said I attacked the order, then I embarrassed my former colleagues, then I am after the Minister, now an imaginary person.  Make up your minds gentlemen.

Please allow me to refer to a letter by Mr E B John (SN, August 20).  Mr John reproduced some relevant sections of the laws to assist “those who would not have troubled to search,” and in doing so has revealed one more conflict of the order with the law which my letter of July 19, 2013, did not have.

Mr John referred to a GINA press release published in Stabroek News of June 11, 2013.  I missed it so I am thankful to Mr John. The Minister is quoted as saying that workers will have to be paid premium (overtime) for working on weekends regardless of whether they complete 40 hours or not.  In my letter of July 19, I did query whether the mention of Acts Cap 95:02 and 18 of 1978, was intended to silently capture payment for Sundays and public holidays. The press release seems to answer it but did not say which of the two Acts will apply; one provides a greater benefit than the other.

But what about Saturdays?  The two Acts and the Order say nothing about Saturdays, so I beg to differ with the Minister.  Overtime for Saturdays can only be paid if 40 hours have been completed.  One cannot infer from the law what is not there.

It seems like total confusion surrounds this order.

Yours faithfully,
Mohamed Akeel

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