GIVING NOTICE TO GOVT. FOR THE ACTIONS OF THE OPPOSITION
When the opposition parties combined to institute cuts into the national Budget, the Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC) did not come out against these cuts which can effectively place workers on the breadline and put a stop order on job creation.
As the umbrella trade union body for trade unions, and against the background of trade unions traditionally railing against any anti-workers measures, the GTUC would have its counterpart, the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Guyana (FITUG), in condemning the potential effects of the cuts on workers and on job creation.
The GTUC strangely did not make a big fuss. There was no condemnation by the GTUC of the cuts instituted by the combined opposition.
Yet, while remaining silent in the face of these cuts instituted by the opposition, the GTUC had the temerity on May Day to issue a stern warning to the government should any workers be put in danger.
What temerity! The GTUC totally ignores those who should be principally held accountable for job losses but wants to warn the government of the consequences if workers are sent home.
This is just one of the reasons why labour is at the crossroads. The GTUC warns the government against workers losing their jobs, but says nothing against the very cuts instituted by the opposition which can lead the government to send home dozens of workers and put a pause on projects that can create jobs for the unemployed.
In condemning the reaction of the government to the cuts, critics have accused the administration of being conveniently concerned about workers. The dispute in which over sixty bauxite workers were dismissed by RUSAL is used to show government’s inconsistency when it comes to defending the rights of workers.
The previous PPP/C administration has long been accused in that matter of siding with the employers, RUSAL.
The truth is that the dismissed workers were not public employees, but rather employees of a private entity. The government has no power to order a private company to reinstate any workers.
The government can bring to the attention of the company its position on the dismissals, but it cannot force a private company to reemploy anyone. The remedy open to the dismissed has to be found in private law through civil action for breach of contract.
If the company breached any labour laws, it too can be prosecuted for such breaches, but conviction for any such breaches does not create an obligation for reinstatement of workers in a private entity.
As such, the government can only seek redress under Section 4 of the Labour Act, Cap. 98:01. Under this Section, the government can attempt conciliation and impose arbitration.
While the law does not specify that conciliation should be thoroughly exhausted before moving towards arbitration, and while the government has the option of moving towards arbitration without the consent of either of the parties to the dispute, it is always the better option to allow conciliation to run its course and not treat conciliation as a mere obstacle towards arbitration.
In other words, there must be a genuine attempt to first try to resolve the matter through conciliation and only when no progress is possible under conciliation should the next step, arbitration, be engaged.
When the Donald Ramotar administration took office, there was an immediate move towards arbitration in this dispute. The arbitration tribunal was in fact established and began its work. However legal action was instituted which has halted the arbitration proceedings
Since the matter is sub judice, it is beyond the scope of this column to pronounce on the merits of the actions taken, except that the courts will have to decide whether before arbitration there must be a condition precedent, which is that the minister responsible for labour relations has to be satisfied that the continuance of the dispute would be gravely injurious to national interest.
It will be for the courts to decide whether on the face of the facts the minister was justified in concluding that the continuance of the dispute would be injurious to the national interest, especially in the context that operations at RUSAL resumed just after the workers were dismissed.
Those who therefore blame the government of being only concerned about workers’ interests after the Budget cuts would be on a more sound footing if they explained just what precisely they expected of the government in relation to the dispute with the bauxite workers.
And in the case of the budget cuts, the GTUC has been reported as stressing that these would best be discussed in an open and transparent atmosphere, where all major stakeholders can air their concerns. But what prevented the GTUC in the first place from outlining its position on the cuts?
Surely, it cannot be the lack of a transparent atmosphere. That has never bridled the GTUC.