In most cases, the claim of erosion of workers’ rights is a stretch

Dear Editor,

There is a continuing lament that hard-earned workers’ rights are gradually being eroded in this country.  In one specific aspect this is accurate; on most others the contention about erosion of rights is not only a stretch, but the situation is the other way around.  I elaborate.

Workers have definitely lost ground when it comes to across-the-table, arm’s length negotiations on compensation issues.  On money matters, the crown jewel of unions’ raison d’etre, the tilt has been away from the workers and emphatically, irrefutably so, where state enterprises are involved.  The union spokespeople have neatly encapsulated this flexing of the might of the state as “unilateral imposition.”  It is on the money, and leaves both unions and their constituents feeling shortchanged, if not disrespected.  Unfortunately, this has been the unpalatable reality for decades now.  The old government perfected it; the new government perpetuates it.

On the other hand, in non-money affairs, other workers’ rights have become near irreversibly embedded in many labyrinthine complexes of contractual agreements, procedural arrangements, and practices no matter how incomprehensible and unrelated to realities in the world of Guyanese work.  In this context, management must share some responsibility for the many impasses that end up handcuffing.  The thorny circumstances that arise mainly have to do with the qualitative and ethical.  A reference or two should assist.

To discipline a serial thief or flagrant cheat comprises multiple delaying, distracting, and debilitating exercises that would have reduced Job to tears, and possibly colourful language, too.  Such are the arduous, inflexible, time-consuming processes for those managements possessing the testicular fortitude to go against the endless tide of stonewalling, nitpicking, and resisting in what amounts to clear cases of worker recklessness, worker sabotage, and worker dishonesty.  Instead of an erosion of workers’ rights, there is the determination to wear away management’s will, exhaust its time, and undermine its ethical bases and goals, as well as their implementation.

Editor, save for an occasional notable bow, here and there, to the principled, the ethical, and the overwhelming weight of circumstances (and evidence), workers and their agents have been primarily devoted to defend blatant wrongdoing, and extend the tenor and tenure

sometimes of obvious malfeasants.  There is no erosion of rights in these instances, but consolidation of contamination by coddling those who contribute, and richly so.  I suppose this is where unions earn their due, and get to exhibit how militant they are, even in the light of the egregious and indisputable.

At this point, I must be clear: I applaud workers and their representatives when they challenge and fight against prejudice, injustice, and wrongdoing on management’s part, as directed towards them.  That must be resisted sturdily.  I think it is both healthy and obligatory.  But there can only be criticism for the misplaced zeal and energies of some workers’ leaders, who lack the frankness and objectivity first to identify, then to deplore, and last to separate from incontestable employee breaches that negatively impact company assets, company reputation, and company visions.  The situations which I emphasize would be representative of material breaches, and not frivolous, discretionary equivalents of workplace misdemeanors.

Since I ventured into the world of labour, there are two other areas worthy of quick mention.  First, there is a company in the fishing sector that, in this 21st century, still denies workers such basic rights as overtime pay, due process, and representation.  Workers live in an environment of here in the morning, gone by the afternoon.  It can be as abrupt and final as that.  This firm, like many others, is reputed to have relationships with ranking government people.  Second, I think that the sugar workers’ union injured its membership irreparably when it prioritized racial panics ahead of industrial economics; and political histrionics before community civics.

In the long-term, all of this has hurt workers, entities, and country.  I believe that the unions have paid a price, too.

Yours faithfully,

GHK Lall

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