Collective bargaining has not been restored by this gov’t

Dear Editor,

The parties in industrial relations-which are government, employer and trade union-are working within the Tripartite Committee to find a mechanism that can assist in expediting resolution to grievances. Two areas that are currently being mulled are an industrial court or an industrial tribunal, where a determination is yet to be made as to the most applicable.

As it relates to collective bargaining this is a process used to resolve differences between employers and workers. It requires engagement between and among the parties in the industrial relations system to work assiduously and finally arrive at an agreement. In the case of collective bargaining between the state agencies and trade union, particularly as it involves wages/salaries and working conditions, the imposition of these continue under the APNU+AFC government.

Engaging the unions, breaking off negotiations, and impositions of wages and salaries is not a feature of collective bargaining. For example, the public sector workers, both in 2015 and 2016, did not have the benefit of collective bargaining but rather wages and salaries imposed.

The absence of collective bargaining weakens the effectiveness of the trade union movement by taking away its ability to be engaged in determination, through negotiation, on the true value of labour and seeks instead to impose what government or the employer thinks they deserve. Denial of collective bargaining takes away the right of the worker to determine the value of their labour.  And history has taught us what the employer thinks is best for workers is not necessarily in their best interest.

In the market place of labour the denial of collective bargaining takes away the workers’ right to tell you what is the value of their labour. Government sets the tone for the industrial relations climate in society and is expected to uphold the law of the land. When government fails to do so, it sets a bad precedent.  It is no wonder employers such as the Bauxite Company of Guyana Incorporated can engage in exploitative acts against the workers.

Since 1999 after a hard fought battle by public service unions for a living wage, which culminated in the Armstrong Arbitration Tribunal, that saw workers receiving the largest remuneration package in decades, there has been no collective bargaining in the sector.

Minister Raphael Trotman, who represented President David Granger, in his address to the May Day Rally stated that collective bargaining was restored and an industrial tribunal established. I am not sure why the minister chose to make these statements but they are misguiding to the public. Collective bargaining has not been restored and there is still a quest of the trade union movement to have this new government commit to doing same. There is no tribunal in existence in Guyana. What is taking place is a tripartite discussion on the issue.

There is expectation that the minister who has responsibility for Labour will see the need for these two issues that are important to the industrial relations climate to be addressed with some level of alacrity. It is for reasons like this, the trade union community, united in one voice, continues the call for a Ministry of Labour. Added to the concerns raised, the misleading information by Minister Trotman highlights the challenges the media face to ensure that the public has accurate information that would help in their understanding of events in society.

Yours faithfully,

Lincoln Lewis

General Secretary

Guyana Trades Union Congress

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