The labour laws of Guyana provide the legal ambit for the functioning of trade unions in a responsible manner. For the University of Guyana (UG) these laws include the Trade Unions Act, the Labour Act and the Trade Union Recognition Act. These laws are taught at the University of Guyana. Can the executives of the unions tell the university community and the general public how compliant they are with the laws? How consistent and principled are they in the teaching and practice of industrial relations at this higher institution of learning?
There are two trade unions at UG, the recognized and certified University of Guyana Workers Union (UGWU) for UB staff by the Trade Union Recognition and Certification Board, and the unrecognized University of Guyana Senior Staff Association (UGSSA). The Trade Union Recognition and Certification Board is the statutory body to certify a trade union as the recognised agent for collective bargaining purposes. The labour laws for the functioning and governing of trade unions impose obligations for a trade union to be in good standing.
Are the trade unions at UG complying with the requirements of the labour laws?
Under the Trade Unions Act, trade unions are required to vest the property of the union in trustees for legal action, for financial accountability including the prompt submitting of the union’s financial accounts for auditing by the Auditor General of Guyana, and annual returns (by May 1 each year) of statements of receipts, funds, and assets to the Registrar of Trade Unions. This is for each year of operation, accounting particularly for the union dues it receives from members.
Under the Trade Union Recognition Act, trade unions are required to apply to the Trade Union Recognition and Certification Board to be certified as the recognized majority union for collective bargaining purposes for a defined bargaining unit. This Act also imposes the obligation to negotiate and bargain in good faith. The concept and principles of good faith negotiations are well known and no doubt being taught at the university. A breach of bargaining in good faith under this Act constitutes an offence liable on summary conviction by a court to the payment of fines. The conduct and behaviour of the UGSSA warrants the testing of this matter in the courts, and any interested party can take this up as a public service.
It is an established fact that the UGSS is not the certified, recognized majority union as the collective bargaining agent for UA staff at the university, having applied to the Trade Union Recognition and Certification Board and failed some three years ago to gain recognition for want of the minimum number of members in the bargaining unit of the UA staff. It is therefore unrepresentative of the majority of senior staff. The UGSSA cannot in the spirit and intent of the law bargain for UB staff since the UGWU has sole and exclusive bargaining rights for its bargaining unit.
The UGSSA has been parading in the media and public eye as the representative of senior staff when it does not have as members in good standing the majority of senior staff. The UGSSA is persisting on “backdoor recognition by piggy-backing on the recognized status of UGWU” under the guise of joint negotiations, despite the separate bargaining units with a distinct community of interests in terms of staff and the nature of their duties. The university administration caved in under external political influence and pressure and participated in this disorderly and unprincipled conduct of industrial relations at the university.
One would expect that the highest teaching and learning institution in the land would set a high standard in constructive and responsible negotiations, having regard to the financial resources of the university and its ability to meet all the demands. This is not a new situation, as it has been this way for many years before the recruitment of the current Vice-Chancellor who is being used as a scapegoat, and given a basket to fetch water.
The power approach – building up the expectations of staff with unrealistic proposals at general meetings, agitation in the media before dialogue/discussions, unnecessary industrial action, negotiations in the media, misinformation to the media, external influences and pressures, illegal actions, a vocal, boisterous minority, public agitation, political lobbying, and personal attacks on the integrity of the Vice Chancellor − seems to be engineered by an unrepresentative union. The Vice Chancellor has the support and confidence of the University Council and those who have the good interest of the university at heart, but for the few disgruntled union officials with their predetermined agenda.
One would expect the university unions to set a good example for the national community by eschewing the power approach and employing the consensus and rights approaches in good faith encounters. There are also the conciliation/mediation and arbitration processes in the event of the failure of the earlier processes.
Samuel J Goolsarran