The days of tenured employment are numbered
What lasting accomplishment, what iconic achievement has the trade union movement achieved in Guyana? What substantive achievement has the trade union movement registered for the working class of Guyana?
There is none. In order to compensate for its underachievement, the trade union movement likes to flaunt other things because they cannot point to anything of real magnitude that would immortalize them in our history.
Some like to boast about their independence which when examined closely is really another way of saying that they opposed the PNC and they opposed the PPP. This is their idea of independence. But how has the working class of this country benefited from this independence?
The trade union movement has nothing to show for its years representing workers, absolutely nothing. The umbrella body of trade unionism in Guyana is the Guyana Trade Union Congress (GTUC) which cannot even mend its own divisions.
There is a breakaway trade union movement, the Federation of Independent Trade Unions in Guyana (FITUG) which it is said represents some 80 per cent of unionized workers, yet the GTUC is supposed to be considered the umbrella body for trade unions in Guyana. Well, if this is so, it is a baby umbrella.
When some of the leaders of the GTUC speak you would believe that they are politicians and not trade unionists. They are more political than some of the professional politicians.
The trade union movement cannot on one foot be showing off its idea of independence and on the foot be genuflecting and begging the government for a subvention.
The government is the major employer in Guyana and how can any trade union movement claim to be independent when its main grouse is that the government is not giving it a hefty subvention?
Why in the first place does the umbrella body of the trade union movement in Guyana need a subvention from the government? Trade unions have collected billions of dollars in dues from workers over the years. Unions are not hand-to-mouth institutions. Some of them have their own offices and facilities. So why should the unions not be able to fund their own training college.
Why does the government have to provide a subvention? What has happened to the monies that the workers have been paying to trade unions long before independence?
Some of them also want the government to reintroduce the agency shop agreement. None of them has questioned whether this is legal. Under an agency shop agreement, deductions are made from both unionized and non- unionized workers which are then given to the union.
In other words, workers have no choice as to whether they wish to contribute to the union. Each month deductions are made.
The courts of Guyana have rightly stopped this practice. What a person earns is his own. Any deduction has to be either authorized by law or by the employee. However, under agency shop agreement, the worker had no say. The monies were automatically deducted whether the employees were part of the union of not.
This is one of the main reasons for the opposition to contract employees. It is not that contract employees cannot be unionized. There is nothing that prevents a contract employee from becoming a member of a union. Membership does not depend on tenured employment.
However, because contract employees are not tenured and their services can be terminated according to the terms of their contracts, it is felt that these employees will be less inclined to join the unions. And since union dues are usually pretty hefty, the more contract workers not interested in unions, the greater the financial deprivation for the unions. And this is the basis of the opposition to contract employees. They represent a potential loss of agency fees for unions.
Those who argue that contract employees are destroying the public service, fail to realize the international changes to the power of unions ever since the era of Ronald Reagan.
Trade unions may not have lost their bark. In fact if you listen to some local trade unions, they are making more noise now than before. But unions are no longer the threat they were to employers as they were in the past.
And not only have the powers of trade unions been reduced, so too has the nature of the workplace. The days of tenured employment are numbered. The young people of today are not looking to work for close to three decades in order to qualify for a pension. They are not keen on long term security of tenure. Most of them would eventually leave to other jobs or to other countries. So they are not looking to be pensioned.
They are prepared to sacrifice the loss of tenure and pension in thirty years, all of that, because they understand the changing nature of the job market. Workers in the state media for example invariably move on to the private media and some move away completely after gaining the experience they need.
Contract workers are no threat to the public service. Without contract workers there will be no functioning public service. When the PNC began to introduce contract workers, they did so for two reasons. This was the only way to attract the skills that were needed. You could not obtain the necessary skills by asking persons to join the public service or work for thirty odd years so as to receive a pension.
An employee has a right to decide whether he or she wishes to be contracted or tenured. And from the way things are going, tenured employment is not going to exist ten years from now because the workers prefer the flexibility that contract employment offers.
Ironically some trade unionists themselves often take up international postings on contract.