The Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU) yesterday said it remains the only legally-recognised representative of Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) workers and accused the agency and the Natural Resources Ministry of colluding to breach the labour laws by withholding the payment of dues from workers who have joined a new union.
First-Vice President of the GPSU Dawn Gardener told a press briefing yesterday that the union would be pursuing legal action to address the situation.
Attempts to contact GGMC’s management for a response yesterday were unsuccessful.
The GPSU called the press conference to address a Sunday Stabroek report which stated that GGMC workers had broken away from the GPSU and were seeking representation instead from a newly established union, the Guyana Civil Servants and General Workers Union.
The new union is being led by the former GPSU GGMC branch chairman Gregory Gaspar.
Gaspar had indicated last week that GGMC management was last August instructed to not pay over deductions to the GPSU, and a refund of those monies was requested.
The GPSU yesterday called the report a “misrepresentation” of the facts and stated that the move was in fact illegal as the union has received no resignations from any GGMC union members. Furthermore, it charged that the GGMC is “arbitrarily and unlawfully withholding” membership dues of its workers.
“In this article, Gaspar informed the reporter, or the public, that dues (have) not been paid to GPSU since August, where they have instructed management to withhold these dues and to refund it to the workers…this is a breach of the laws, the ILO [International Labour Organisation] Convention, and we’ve found this strange that management would actually condone in breaching the law by taking advice from the workers. Management ought to know better… The convention clearly states that management should not interfere with the internal affairs of the union, but here it is that they’re doing it and it’s a matter of concern. And we would hope that management (realises) that they are breaching the laws…,” Gardener stated yesterday.
“We have engaged management and the board, [and] the ministry on this matter…we want to now conclude that management, the board, as well as the ministry, (are) in collusion with the workers in breaching the laws and the ILO Convention,” Gardener concluded, having informed the media that the GPSU received no response to its concerns.
She also made claims that workers had written to the management of GGMC requesting that it hand over their dues to the GPSU. Gardener said there are more than 300 employees being represented by the union at the GGMC.
“…As far as we are aware, the Guyana Public Service Union is the only recognised, certified union with a certificate from the Trade Union Recognition and Certificate Board [TURCB] to represent the workers at the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission. We have never been challenged by (any)) other union. So we continue to be the recognised union and we will represent the workers—all workers—at the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission,” said Gardener.
Gaspar had stated last week that the new union was in receipt of more than 200 applications already and said that persons from other organisations had also expressed interest in joining. He opined that the number would be higher if it has not been for the recent issue that arose with regards to the burning of gold and mercury within the compound of the GGMC’s headquarters. He noted, however, that some things had to be put in place before they could expand outward.
Yesterday, he indicated that in February, when the union was formed, the TURCB was not in place. Stabroek News was told that the board has been dissolved since October last year.
Gaspar, responding to the claims made during yesterday’s GPSU press conference, related that shortly after elections last year, the new union would have handed over a petition signed by workers to management and the GPSU, indicating their interest in resigning from the union.
Gaspar noted, however, that the GPSU did not accept the petition and instead requested individual resignations.
“Subsequently, they said that they’re not going to accept that, persons have to resign individually, which I find as unreasonable because what I can say is that for a number of years, persons who would have joined GGMC never filled up forms as joining GPSU. So how can those persons who never joined, we’re now asking them to resign? Because it’s automatic—once you come on to GGMC and you start working, dues are deducted and either paid as union dues or union representation fees,” Gaspar related.
He related that over the years, when dues were sent over to the union, a list was also sent over with the names of the employees.
There are provisions within the GPSU rule book that allow for automatic membership of public servants.
Rule 3 (b) of the GPSU Rules state, “Every candidate… on applying for admission shall pay one month’s subscription or give an authorisation for deduction of Union Dues. No candidate shall be deemed to be a member of the Union until the first month’s subscription has been paid into the Union, wither directly of by way of deduction (check-off) from the pay of the candidate.”
It goes on to state that, “Provided that persons recruited into the Public Sector after 1st March 1976 in areas falling within the bargaining units of the Guyana Public Service Union, shall automatically become members upon their recruitment, unless they exercise option of not becoming members at the time of their recruitment, whereupon they are required to pay to the Union the equivalent of Union Dues as Agency Fees in keeping with the Agency Shop Agreement….”
Gardener noted yesterday that there was a procedure to be followed to resign from the union and she stated that as far as the GPSU is aware it has not been observed. She also noted that upon joining the union, members would have authorised for dues to be deducted.
According to the GPSU’s rule book, under Rule 3 (k), “any member who is employed in an agency where the union is recognised shall be obligated to give six (6) months prior notice of his/her intention to resign from the union if he/she on resigning intends to continue to be an employee of that agency.”
However, as Gaspar also pointed out yesterday, (i) and (j) add that “any member who is three (3) months in arrears of subscription shall be deemed an un-financial member, and shall forfeit all rights and privileges of membership and cease to enjoy any trade union benefits; and, any member who is six (6) months in arrears shall cease to be a member.”
It has now been nine months since those dues were withheld.
“The Commission acted in good faith. They didn’t do anything wrong when they honoured the requests of staff for their dues to not be paid over….GPSU has to understand that the dues are the members’ dues, GGMC was just acting as the mediator. It’s not the Commission’s money, this is the employees’ money and if the employees say to the mediator, ‘please do not pay over our dues,’ the Commission ain’ had a choice. GPSU’s grouse should have been with their members to find out why they don’t want the dues to go over and they should stop trying to harass the Commission…,” Gaspar opined.
Gaspar stated that since the contentious GPSU elections last year, no representative from the union had visited to speak with members.
“…Those persons over there are just interested in the dues. They [don’t] come out as the leaders to say, okay there’s a little war and so going on here…there’s displeasure and whatever it is and come and try to iron out. They haven’t done that, and this is nine months…all they sit over there and they write letters about dues and dues and dues,” he added.
In a prepared statement delivered by Vice-President Mortimer Livan yesterday, the GPSU noted that while it concedes that instances of worker dissatisfaction with work representation “are an occupational hazard of industrial relations practice,” the union has been “persistent in its representation of the workers of the GGMC in a range of matters pertaining to their conditions of service.”
The statement said that in response to requests for representation from GGMC members regarding critical health and safety matters, the GSPU is awaiting confirmation of a date for a meeting where it intends “to raise various worker-related issues which prevailed because of the negligence and incompetence of the former branch executives not doing what they were supposed to do, which was to report to the Central Executive of the Union that the authorities had resumed burning of gold/mercury in the compound.”
To this, Gaspar questioned who the “former branch executives” being referred to were, as he stated that during the last elections they had received a letter from GPSU stating that their terms as executive members of the branch had expired.
“…So, now I’m surprised that they talk about representation and they talk about mercury and all kinds of things. Who would have approached them for that?” Gaspar asked.