Opposition withdraws, vows to challenge constitutionality
Trades Union Recognition (Amendment) Bill…
…Govt. argues it is aimed at removing GTUC monopoly
The uncertain became certain yesterday as the Speaker of the National Assembly ruled that the Trades Union Recognition (Amendment) could be proceeded with but the People’s National Congress Reform, the Alliance For Change as well as the Guyana Action Party refused to take part in what the opposition called an unconstitutional debate and walked out of the sitting.
Leader of the Opposition, Robert Corbin, vowed to challenge the constitutionality of the legislation given that there was no meaningful consultation with an affected stakeholder, the Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC).
At the onset of yesterday’s debate, drama reared its head as members of the trades union movement were initially prevented from entering the compound of the Parliament.
Police ranks at the gate told the members of the trades union movement, among whom was President of the GTUC, Gillian Burton, that the public viewing gallery was closed to the public.
After much tit for tat the members were allowed in on the promise that they would not cause any mischief.
When the session was called to order, Speaker of the House Ralph Ramkarran told the House that he had considered the various contributions and ruled that the he was not in agreement with the proposals by the Opposition leader and as such the Labour Minister, Manzoor Nadir was allowed to proceed with the debate.
At this point in time Corbin interjected, pointing to the fact that consultation was embedded in what is the supreme law of the land.
He added that the GTUC President indicated that the trade union umbrella body was not afforded any consultation and as such it would be a travesty and a breach of the constitution of Guyana to continue with the second reading of the Bill.
Corbin also told the House that he was informed by Nadir, through Opposition Chief Whip, Lance Carberry, that he (Nadir) was prepared to proceed without any further consultation.
“Parliament ought to show respect for the Constitution…It would be out of order for the Parliament to proceed with a breach of the Constitution,” said Corbin.
His position was supported by AFC chairman, Khemraj Ramjattan, who pointed to a section of the Constitution of Guyana that provides for trade unions to be included in the process. Furthermore, consultations are paramount and should be upheld.
These presentations were, however, debunked by the Speaker of the House who noted that he was aware of the supremacy of the Constitution but contended that the National Assembly was not the place to determine whether the Bill was unconstitutional.
According to Ramkarran, it was a matter for the Judiciary to decide and the National Assembly should not seek to usurp the duty of the Judiciary.
Shadow Minister of Labour, Basil Williams, later said that he was of the opinion that the Speaker was wrong in his ruling in that if a piece of proposed legislation was seemingly unconstitutional, then it should be addressed at the level of the National Assembly.
By this time the opposition parties had all walked out of the National Assembly.
Walkout regardless, the government benches presented their arguments to the Speaker of the National Assembly and according to the Labour Minister, the legislation was just aimed at strengthening the labour force in Guyana.
General Secretary of the Guyana Agricultural Workers Union (GAWU) Komal Chand told the House that the legislation was aimed at breaking the monopoly of the GTUC, given that the umbrella body over the years has been disintegrating and according to some circles, has outlived its usefulness.
As it is, the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Guyana boasts four unions whilst the GTUC boasts 14 unions.