A display of contempt for authority that warrants a strong official response

There has been a certain ripple effect arising out of the efforts of the Ministry of Social Protection to more directly engage employers and employees on matters pertaining to workers’ rights, including employer obligations in terms of emoluments, terminal benefits, leave entitlements, etc. In fact, as Junior Minister in the Social Protection Ministry Simona Broomes says, the injustices relating to denial of employee entitlements are considerable and have existed over a protracted period of time. Some employers, she says, display postures of decided indifference to their obligations to their employees, unmindful of the personal family tragedies that derive from their delinquency.

Minister Broomes has zeroed in on righting some of those wrongs and addressing cases of long-delayed justice which workers have endured at the hands of delinquent employers, with a kind of messianic zeal.

Her efforts have attracted a measure of public attention seemingly because she appears to have chosen to dispense with the bureaucratic procedures, bring employers and employees together, mobilize her officers and carefully apply the laws pertaining to the particular circumstances. It is a method of negotiation that relies heavily on goodwill and decency on all sides, and the minister says that there has been evidence of those qualities in some of the employers whom she engaged.

It has not always worked. It seems that for some employers the diligence of the ministry and the minister in probing behavioural anomalies in their treatment of workers seeks to set a precedent which they find discomfiting. Her preference for directly engaging business owners (or managing directors in the cases of expatriate companies) is not favoured by some of those ‘top guns’ in the business sector who, from various reports, had grown accustomed to treating the then Ministry of Labour and the country’s labour laws with indifference, nay, contempt.

Managing Director of Baishanlin, Chu Hongbo, was due to meet with Minister Broomes on Thursday. He had been asked to meet with the minister on a previous occasion and had not done so. Last Thursday, not only was he a ‘no show,’ but he provided no prior reason for failing to show. Instead, he sent one of his managers.

This newspaper understands that the Ministry of Social Protection has received more than twenty labour violation complaints against Baishanlin. The minister felt that she should engage the company’s mnanaging Director personally on these complaints. He, perhaps, thought differently.

In a comment to this newspaper on the matter of Mr Chu’s failure, twice, to respond positively to her request for an audience with him or even to provide an excuse/apology for failing to do so the minister said: “I am here as a minister of the government and it is the government writing to ask you to come in and you are still refusing and sending your junior staff. It is a clear disrespect. It speaks volumes.”

The minister is right. It “speaks volumes” about the extent to which, over the years, arrogant and contemptuous employers rode roughshod over the procedures and protocols associated with engaging the then Ministry of Labour and with compliance with the country’s labour laws, and they believe that they can continue to do so. Indeed, it is public knowledge that the now Ministry of Social Protection is still seeking to catch up with a backlog of workplace accident investigations where no action had been taken and where (in one particular instance) the fact of the accident had actually been denied.

In the instance of Mr Chu it should be pointed out that this is not the first instance in which an expatriate business executive has demonstrated a lack of regard for laws and procedures and even for high officials, and indeed the question arises as to whether all of this has not been taking place on account of the inattention and/or indifference on the part of government over the years.

One hopes that we have not heard the last of Mr Chu’s indiscretion and that through the appropriate channels government’s feelings what would appear to be his lack of regard for the office of one of its ministers would be communicated to him in no uncertain terms. After all, other investors will find their way to Guyana in the period ahead make allowances for compromises that create the impression that it is alright for business owners and managing directors, including guests in our country, to treat our ministers and other high officials with the kind of disregard and contempt evinced in this instance. An apology to the minister from the Baishanlin boss ought surely to be demanded.

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