The Guyana Power and Light Inc (GPL) is standing by its decision to negotiate separately with the two unions representing its workers and has urged them to engage early so that staff can be paid in time for the holidays.
The company’s call came after an aborted meeting on Tuesday with the National Association of Agricultural, Commercial and Industrial Employees (NAACIE), which represents non-managerial staff and the other with the Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU), which represents managerial staff.
The two unions have said that the company has refused to engage with them jointly for over a year and NAACIE on Tuesday said that GPL invited it to a meeting but refused to speak with the union’s representatives due to the presence of members of the GPSU, who were present in an advisory capacity. As a result, it urged workers to be ready to struggle to avoid the imposition of wage increases.
However, in a statement on Wednesday GPL said that following a previous ultimatum by the unions in which industrial action was threatened over the situation, the Labour Ministry intervened as a conciliator and both the company and the unions had presented their arguments at two meetings but to no avail as they remained deadlocked.
In reference to Tuesday’s aborted meeting, GPL said it invited the unions to commence negotiations again and NAACIE General Secretary Kenneth Joseph had agreed. However, representatives of the GPSU then turned up at the meeting, “contrary to the letter, spirit and understanding” of the invitation to NAACIE and the telephone conversation between GPL Human Resources Director Balgobin Parsaud and Joseph. “We expressed our continued desire to start negotiations, but that GPSU representatives would not be permitted to be present during the negotiations. NAACIE refused and left,” the company said.
According to GPL, it has two separate and distinct collective labour agreements with the two unions although they expired since 2003. It added that while it has submitted proposals to NAACIE and GPSU to renegotiate the agreements, both unions appear disinclined to negotiate.
GPL added that between October 2013 and August 2014 it has written to NAACIE and the GPSU 12 times inviting both parties to commence negotiations, including negotiations for wages and salaries and both have refused to attend meetings. According to company, the unions have failed to put forward “a single valid or commonsense argument” in support of their demand for joint negotiations.
GPL maintained that its refusal to engage with the unions jointly is based on the separate bargaining agreements with two unions and each has distinct certificates of recognition as sole bargaining agents for different categories of workers at GPL. It said too that the company has in the past negotiated separately with the two unions and there is nothing in the existing collective labour agreements with the unions or in law that requires GPL to agree to joint negotiations.
GPL added that it has also considered the arguments put forward by the unions in their demand for joint negotiations and finds them to be without substance or merit. “Non-managerial and management staff negotiating jointly for salaries and wages will likely engender conflicts of interest,” it argued.
Meanwhile, the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Guyana (FITUG), of which NAACIE is an affiliate, yesterday deplored GPL’s decision to meet with NAACIE, while saying that in negotiations any team has the inalienable right to decide on its team’s composition.
“FITUG believes such an insignificant matter which has so far stymied NAACIE and GPL from meeting could trigger unnecessary industrial action by the employees of the company,” it further warned.
“FITUG takes the opportunity to call upon the GPL to return to the bargaining table without any pre-condition with respect to the composition of the Union’s delegation,” it urged.
FITUG also pointed out that employees of GPL in the GPSU are to receive 5% and 8% wage/salary increases retroactive to January 1, 2014, in keeping with the recent decision of the government.