Unions will continue to press for Labour to be accorded its rightful status in gov’t

Dear Editor,

Reference is being made to Stabroek News’ article `Gov’t says no to Ministry of Labour – Amna Ally says function being adequately performed’ (24th July, 2018). As Minister Ally’s presentation, on 20th July in the National Assembly, continues to attract attention and rebuttal, without fear of contradiction there is certainty the arguments advanced against the Motion would never have been allowed by a PNC-led Government of Forbes Burnham or Desmond Hoyte.

In debate, discussion, negotiation and agreement, the marshalling of thoughts on the issue are of import and consequence. To get it right one must first seek to understand what’s before him/her, the concept(s), structure, substance, and philosophical underpinning (i.e. spirit and intent) of the extant matter. The same principles apply for understanding of constitution, laws, universal declarations, international conventions and charters, parliamentary Motion, Bills, and so forth. If you start from the premise of not seeing the importance of seeking to first understand you will meander and most likely get it wrong.

The crux of the Minister’s misunderstanding of what the Motion set out to achieve is the statement that, “A simple name modification [a Ministry of Social Protection] has not impacted the work of the department of Labour, there is still a minister designated to handle all labour matters therefore the motion is baseless.”

Labour, a collective noun, is a cross-cutting product that impacts every facet of man’s life, from the womb to the tomb, and across every ministry. As such there needs to be a ministry that develops policies that are all encompassing for the workers of this country. The departments in the Ministry of Social Protection that deal with trafficking in person, child protection, industrial disputes, cooperatives, occupational safety and health, women advocacy, pension/public assistance, labour market information system, etc. are elements of Labour.

The Department of Labour only handles industrial disputes, i.e. conflicts and grievances. Industrial dispute is an element of Labour not the totality of Labour, equally as is Social Protection which represents 17 of the ILO Conventions. The naming of the referred department, a colonial inheritance, was and is not the totality of Labour.

The Department of Labour is headed by a Chief Labour Officer and team-i.e. the technical personnel- who execute the specific activities consistent with the Laws, customs and practices.  This department always existed in previous ministries that carried the name Labour. Thus, the Minister’s argument that Labour does not need equal treatment and prominence in the structure of governance displays clear absence of understanding of Labour, what it constitutes, and its attendant issues.

A Ministry of Labour (standing by itself or with other interests) develops macro policies guided by the International Labour Conventions (ILO) which are 189. When there is talk about Labour in governance and management it refers to the ILO conventions, their spirit and intent, in shaping government’s policies in advancing and protecting the welfare of the working class. Workers of the Caribbean have always identified with such a named ministry as a friend of theirs based on a sordid history and the fact the Conventions, which they have fought to secure, are seen as their source of refuge and rock in their unending pursuit to be treated with respect and dignity in society. Government’s recognition for the presence of such a ministry also communicates to the working class that they have an ally in the seat of government.

This administration has a Ministry of Business that addresses issues pertaining to the business class. So what is wrong with workers demanding a ministry that gives equal prominence and treatment to protecting and advancing their holistic interest? This is what the Labour Movement is demanding, and our just cause will not be silenced until workers secure what’s rightly theirs in this society that they built and are expected to continue building.

Let me make it very clear, the united trade union community never asked for a new ministry. It was proposed Labour be added to the Ministry of Social Protection which would give equal recognition to all the issues attending to the welfare of the working-class. Repeatedly it was made known this constituent represents those that have exited the workforce (past), are in the workforce (present) and are to enter the workforce (potential), and it matters not whether they are unionised or not.

The above fundamentals the Minister did not comprehend and they continue to elude her. Knowledge could have saved the APNU+AFC Government the embarrassment and having same recorded in the Hansard for posterity. A victory delivered based on votes derived from ignorance and intolerance (the Motion was brought by the Opposition) is a miscarriage of justice in society. Governance is serious business because it has implications for the lives, safety and welfare of citizens and country.

Finally, Minister Ally is a trained teacher and retired from the profession at the level of headmistress. Whereas due recognition is given to this achievement society would be in order in exercising the right to question what was the quality of education delivered during her tenure based on the presentation in the National Assembly on 20th July.

Yours faithfully,

Lincoln Lewis

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