Bleak day for industrial relations

Nine days before the 2015 general elections, Stabroek News headlined ‘APNU+AFC makes pact to restore bargaining rights to workers – under gov’t of national partnership.’ It continued, ‘The opposition coalition APNU+AFC yesterday made a pact with the Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC) and labour unions in Guyana for the resuscitation of collective bargaining should it win the May 11th general and regional polls.’  Presenting copies of the coalition manifesto to Guyana Trades Union Congress General Secretary, Mr. Lincoln Lewis, the coalition presidential candidate, Mr. David Granger, told the gathering ‘We guarantee you that we will stand behind unions so that unions can sit down with employers and restore collective bargaining… it is back to the bargaining table; that is what APNU+AFC will give you.’  Fast forward to May 1st 2018: APNU+AFC is in government and in the Stabroek News we find ‘Union leaders urge workers to fight to protect rights’ and ‘Workers face a clear and present threat of losing what is constitutionally-protected and guaranteed’ and, instead of receiving promissory documents, Lincoln Lewis was being denounced as a ‘traitor’ as he told the May Day Rally that ‘For over 15 years, members of the Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU) have been deprived of collective bargaining!’ The lament that things have changed but remain the same, is an understatement.

Collective bargaining is covered by Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,  in 1966 Guyana ratified the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining Convention, 1949 (No. 98),  Article 147 of the Guyana Constitution recognizes freedom of association and the right to form trade unions, and our Labour Act emphasizes that, unless otherwise stated, collective agreements are legally binding. For a rational government that speaks a great deal about the need to protect  human rights and for the populace to respect the rule of law to so blatantly disregard such a solemn promise to what is largely its core constituency, it must believe that there is a great deal to lose by allowing free collective bargaining.

I see self-interest in the governing elite increasing its emoluments by on average about 50% immediately upon coming to office; not wanting constitutional reform; its position on the elections commission and the appointment of our premier legal officers and now wanting a new voters list, etc. But except that it has bought hook, line and sinker the major excuse of the PPP/C for not allowing collective bargaining, I cannot see disadvantage or inordinate danger in its fulfilling its promise to the public sector unions…..

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