On 96th anniversary, restoration of collective bargaining among major concerns for GPSU

Dear Editor,

Saturday June 8th, 2019 marked the 96th anniversary of the struggle by Public Service employees (members of the Guyana Public Service Union) for fair employment conditions, security of tenure and acceptable standards of living, while providing quality public service to the citizens of our nation.

 The journey has been long and arduous, beginning in the colonial days when the governor’s permission had to be obtained to form the Civil Service Association (as the organization was initially named) through the period of internal self government, Independence and finally on the attainment of Republican status.

 An analysis of the available evidence shows that the Union made its greatest strides during the mid 60’s and 70’s where successive governments provided the impetus for change and entered into agreements to benefit workers.

 All fundamental International Labour Organisation (ILO) Conventions in effect to protect Trade Union rights and workers’ rights were ratified. The Guyana Constitution was amended to include the feature to make all Collective Agreements legally binding. The National Insurance Scheme was established, pensions were entrenched as a constitutional right, several Collective Labour Agreements were entered into with the employer, the Government of Guyana i.e. the Avoidance and Settlement of Disputes Agreement, the check off of union dues and Agency Fees Agreement, the Secondment to the GPSU Agreement, Trade Union Leave for attending meetings and Leave for Trade Union education, etc. including land for housing – Lamaha Gardens  and land for the GPSU Sports Complex. This was evidence that and there was a political will and a commitment to move forward to address necessary social issues in the employees’ interest.

 The 80’s and 90’s brought some change with successive governments making it more difficult for workers’ rights to be respected. This was even more evident in the post 1992 era where the working class credentials of the government appeared to be a sham. The Trade Union Recognition Act of 1997 which we felt would have enhanced Trade Union Rights was repeatedly abused with the collusion of elements on the Trade Union Recognition and Certification Board and other Unions, namely GAWU, NAACIE and this culminated eventually with the involvement of the GLU to undermine the GPSU. The Trade Union Recognition and Certification Act was also amended to negatively impact on trade union rights.  The process of appeals to the High Court were frustrated and the situation remained, inconclusive. Complaints to the ILO were resisted by the government and were also inconclusive. Employees of the fire service and prison service were arbitrarily removed from the GPSU’s membership and the court case, which was filed has not been heard to date. Also, the professional staff of Queen’s College, Bishops’ High School and the multilateral schools across the country were all arbitrarily withdrawn from the membership of the GPSU.

 With the death of Dr. Cheddi Jagan  the existing working class sentiments of the PPP/C, if ever there was any, evaporated.

 The assault on the GPSU magnified and became more ruthless. Industrial unrest prevailed, premised on their disregard for ILO Conventions, continued breaches of collective labour agreements, abuse of workers’ rights, flouting  of High Court Orders, etc. Also part of the Land of the GPSU Sports Complex ground at Thomas Land was seized, to be leased to a friend of President Bharrat Jagdeo. That friend was eventually jailed in the USA for criminal activities.

 National and General Elections in 2015 resulted in a change of government. The APNU+AFC Coalition was elected. For most, it was like a breath of fresh air after a very long period of depression, suppression and executive lawlessness. The Union was able to reclaim the Sports Complex land and an agreement has been entered into to restore the facilities to its former glory for members to use.  The Union has received funding to participate in activities that are of value to members for their awareness, enlightenment and to keep them up to date and in contact with their brothers and sisters nationally, regionally and internationally. This assistance has been appreciated.

 However, major concerns remain in abeyance and/or inadequately addressed:

 – Restoration of the practice of Collective Bargaining

–  The inadequacy of remuneration to public sector workers

–   The ridiculous allowance being paid to officers has not been reviewed in excess of 20 years.

–  The outstanding de-bunching exercise and the re-introduction of the payment of in-scale increments.

–  The alleviation of  contract employment in established public service positions

–   Health insurance for public service workers

–   Increase in the age of retirement

–   Sweepers/Cleaners being classified as permanent, full-time employees

–   Payment of full gratuity for employees on maternity leave

–   Restoring the Fire Service and Prison Service under the Public Service Commission.

–   Tabling of Agency Shop Legislation

–   Fully restoring GPSU nominees on public sector Boards of Directors

–   Child/day care centres for Public Sector Workers children and several other matters.

 There is a tendency to impose rather than negotiate conditions of service and a continued practice of denying workers merited benefits, obstruction to workers trade union rights and due process.

Long live the Guyana Public Service Union

Yours faithfully,

Patrick Yarde

President

Guyana Public Service Union

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