Plans for a meeting between Junior Minister of Social Protection Simona Broomes and business owners are, she told Stabroek Business earlier this week, “part of the ministry’s wider strategy to develop a workable formula for a better labour relations environment,” between business owners and their employees and between business owners and the Ministry of Social Protection.
Stabroek Business understands that the planned meeting with several of the country’s high-profile business owners will be preceded by a meeting with officials of the Private Sector Commission (PSC) and the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI), which forum will discuss both the envisaged agenda for the meeting as well, as the anticipated attendees. Broomes said that while she would be seeking “guidance and recommendations” from the PSC and the GCCI regarding both the agenda for the meeting with the business owners, the ministry also has its own ideas about the issues that need to be discussed at the forum as well as the business owner group likely to be present at the forum.
In recent months, the former head of the Guyana Women Miners Organisation has had numerous high-profile encounters with private sector workplaces and most of these have arisen out of the need to settle employer/employee differences relating mostly to pay, conditions of work and compensation arising out of termination of services. Broomes said that while the negotiations with some employers have been “challenging,” she does not believe, “on the whole,” that employers are “generally indifferent to the rights and concerns of their workers.”
According to Broomes, there are cases in which some employers simply do not trouble themselves to become familiar with their obligations to workers under the law. “In the cases of construction sites, for example, there sometimes seems to be a general and shocking ignorance of the law as it relates to health and safety and other issues. There is no excuse for this but it is a reality,” she said, adding that on some if not most of these sites you tend to meet a foreman rather than the actual owner.
Broomes said that the idea behind an engagement with “actual business owners” is to attempt to “get across the barrier” created by the presence of foremen and managers and speak to the owners. “I believe that if we can target business owners, if we can make them directly aware of their own personal responsibilities under the law then, perhaps, we might get them to do the right thing. I have had some amount of experience of employers, owners, who appear to mean well but who, over time, have been delinquent,” Broomes said.
Asked about the possible composition of the employers’ forum, Broomes said that while she could not give specifics at this time she was keen on engaging “large employers” in areas like construction, commerce and other sectors “where there has been recurring employer/ employee differences.”
She said the impression was not to be created that she was seeking to “lay down the law” to business owners. “We want them to be aware of what the law says and, in the first instance, to rely on their voluntary compliance. The other point I must make is that while employers have obligations they also have rights and it should be made clear that the ministry’s insistence on respect for workers’ rights is not intended to unsettle employers in any way.
Where there are employee transgressions the letter of the law should be applied as well.