In February 2002 out of concern for the degeneracy in our society a decision was taken to start a national conversation on rights and the rule of law. This was influenced by the PPP-led Bharrat Jagdeo government that was at the time transgressing workers/citizens’ rights and violating laws with impunity. Those perceived not to be supporters of the PPP or who expressed alternative views to those of the PPP were targeted in a sustained manner.
As the conversation became intense in the society and citizens became empowered, the PPP claimed that their actions were constitutionally driven. This society did not experience constitutional adherence from the PPP but constitutional misinterpretation and misapplication to justify their dastardly acts. Representatives of the PPP are today raising concerns as to respecting time-honoured principles, international charters, conventions and laws. And for some reason it makes the national discourse interesting.
From my vantage point as a trade unionist it is interesting to note the PPP’s cogent arguments and presentations on accountable government and industrial practices, which indicate that this party knew all along what is right. The PPP government engaged in violating laws, transgressing rights, discriminating against groups and individuals based on ethnicity, political association and friendship. They showed contempt when asked to account for monies.
Conscious of the positions being adumbrated today by the PPP and moreso aware of the destruction they have wrought on families, communities and our society, they have earned what is rightly theirs by being in the opposition, where they can reflect and repent their wrongdoing. Governance is about the people and their development. It is guided by the constitution, laws, international charters and conventions, inclusive of time-honoured principles. Because the PPP demonstrated no respect for these tenets Guyana was mismanaged by Bharrat Jagdeo and Donald Ramotar.
As a people we ought not to allow the wrongs of the Jagdeo and Ramotar governments to be repeated now and in the future. What was wrong under the PPP cannot be right now under this government. The world, even the most powerful country, speaks to governance grounded in human rights, and trade union rights are human rights. The trade union must embrace rights in their totality, even if this requires being at odds with supporters of political parties, because the trade union has a social responsibility not only to workers at the workplace but to the communities within which they live.
As citizens/workers it is in our interest to appreciate that the worker/management relationship is not guided by gut feeling or perception; it is managed by a body of rules and laws emanating from the International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions, international charters, national constitution and laws, collective labour agreements and time-honoured principles.
The establishment of the ILO in 1919 by the world’s major powers was premised on recognition that there are three major groups that determine development in society. These are government, employers and workers. And it is for this said reason every convention or recommendation that is developed by this institution has the input and agreement of the three parties. The governing body of the ILO comprises a government representative, trade union representative and employer representative. And at every stratum of the organisation the three groups are represented.
Over the years this society is seeing a consistent effort to marginalise the input of labour and to utilise labour in a way that is counterproductive to its very own interests. The emergence of the new administration and consequent actions on and in the labour section from the absence of a named Minister of Labour in a country which birthed trade unionism in the Caribbean, are issues which the Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC) will be looking at and speak to in a more comprehensive way at the right time.
Having said that the recent concerns expressed by Juan Edghill regarding the voice of the General Secretary of the GTUC on the issue of rights, due process, human dignities, Kwame McCoy et al, is noted. Hearing this coming from this agent of the PPP validates the fact that the PPP knew what was right but ignored the tenets of good governance to govern with an iron fist and marginalise those who were dissenters and not perceived as natural supporters of their government.
On the issue of dismissals of employees and known PPP hacks masquerading in the government service as contract workers, GTUC is aware that Mr Edghill, the PPP on whose behalf he speaks, and surely Kwame McCoy et al know the processes involved in settling industrial and other disputes. They are advised that it is their right to follow through on these. The public will be following with keen attention.
The work of the GTUC will continue without fear or favour and will remain guided by time- honoured principles under this new administration. GTUC will determine its battles and will not be used conveniently by the PPP, though over time, it is possible that we are likely to share common interests and positions. However, such will only be premised on the principles that labour holds faithful, and which are enshrined in our constitution, ILO core labour standards, universal declarations and charters.
General Secretary, GTUC