A properly incentivized work force whose rights are respected and whose workplace security and material needs are being met is critical to a stable economy and to the prosperity of the nation as a whole, Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC) General Secretary Lincoln Lewis told Stabroek Business shortly after emerging from last week’s meeting of a trade union movement that continues to be fractured by divisions many of which have their origins in political differences.
“I suppose one can say that the meeting is in response to a growing recognition by trades unions that a divided movement is an ineffective movement and that there is a critical role for a cohesive labour movement to play in strengthening the country’s economy,” Lewis said.
What makes last week’s meeting significant is the fact that some of the unions that attended have, for one reason or another, been at loggerheads intermittently. The Guyana Labour Union (GLU) and the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) were among the members of the breakaway Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Guyana that attended last week’s GTUC meeting.
“We look around these days, in both the public and private sectors and there appears to be an assumption that economic development can take place without us being mindful of the condition of the labour force. In fact I sometimes ask myself whether that is the reason why workers’ concerns like wages and salaries, the working environment, safety and health and other worker-related considerations are overlooked,” he said.
In his comment, Lewis drew attention to the issues of concern raised by some of the unions that attended the meeting including the Guyana Bauxite and General Workers Union (GB&GWU), the Guyana Teachers Union (GTU), GAWU, the National Association of Agricultural, Commercial and Industrial Employees and the GLU. “What is significant is that all of these unions are speaking with one voice that arises out of their collective concern about worker-related issues. There are even some instances, like the case of the bauxite union, where the union’s concern has to do with infractions being committed at a workplace in which the state has an interest,” Lewis said.
While the GTUC General Secretary refused to be drawn on whether the recent meeting might be a precursor to subsequent initiatives designed to reunite the labour movement he declared that observers need to “read the tea leaves.” According to Lewis, “The meeting of the unions at this time ought to send signals to those concerned that differences have not meant that we have lost our focus. What we as trade unionists understand is that a settled, stable and looked-after work force is one of the keys to the development of the successful economy that we talk about.”
Asked to comment on the near simultaneous outbursts by the GTU and the Guyana Public Service Union over what, so far, have been incomplete negotiations with the Government of Guyana, Lewis said that in the final analysis workers must be able to anticipate being paid at levels that will at least ensure that their critical needs are attended to. “The real question is whether what is on offer or what is being paid at this time is sufficient to attend to those needs. I am aware of a host on instances in which the paychecks of teachers and public servants are being subsidized by family and friends,” Lewis said.