By Gary Eleazar
Constitutionality, consultation, interpretation, definition of law as against applied as law and application of Parliamentary Standing Orders, among other technical jargons, were spewed for hours on Monday leaving the speaker unable to pronounce on whether the Trade Union Recognition (Amendment) Bill 2008 should be proceeded with at that sitting.
A decision was taken to have the proposed piece of legislation deferred and this was in light of the fact that the Opposition parties had all signaled their intention to boycott participation in the debate of the Bill, given that it was a breach of the rules of debating a piece of legislation.
According to Robert Corbin, leader of the People’s National Congress Reform, the Parliamentary Standing Orders clearly states that there must be a six-day hiatus between the first and second reading of any Bill in the National Assembly.
He pointed out that the Bill was first tabled on December 22, and that the Minister of Labour was seeking to have the Bill read one week later, on December 29.
Corbin said that during that period there were three holidays and according to the Interpretation of Clauses Act, during that six-day period holidays were to be excluded hence it was only after three days that the Minister was seeking to have the legislation passed in the National Assembly.
This was challenged by Anil Nandlall of the Peoples Progressive Party Civic, who told the House that the Interpretation of Clauses Act was referring to the written law and this was only those that were assented to by the President and the Parliamentary Standard Orders.
This argument prompted a further challenge from AFC chairman, Raphael Trotman, who said that it was provided for under the Act as applied law.
Everall Franklin of the Guyana Action Party also contributed to what was now a lively exchange of interpretations. He stated that whatever the meaning of the various provisions, the delay was meant for consultation and this was never done. Further, the concept of consultation was enshrined in the supreme law of the land—- the Constitution of Guyana.
According to the Opposition members the proposed piece of legislation will affect trade unions and as such the members should be consulted. It was pointed out that the Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC) has not been consulted with.
According to Basil Williams of the PNCR the GTUC is recognized as the legal majority representative body by the International Labour Organisation.
This view did not seem to hold water with the Labour Minister, who during a question and answer phase in the House, said that he was unaware of such a position held by the GTUC.
Despite this the GTUC, via a letter that was copied to Prime Minister Samuel Hinds, and the Minister of Labour and circulated to the media, stated that it was not consulted on the issue.
According to the document signed by the president of that body, Gillian Burton, “It has been brought to the attention of the GTUC that the Trade Union Recognition (amendment) Bill 2008, Bill No. 25 of 2008, was introduced in the Parliament on Monday December 22, 2008 in the midst of the holiday season…We have been further informed that the Government proposes to proceed with the second reading today (Monday) in Parliament…
“It is rather unfortunate that the Guyana Trades Union Congress has not to date received a copy of this proposed law that has far reaching implications for the trade union movement and workers in Guyana….In the circumstances we are requesting that the reading of the Bill be postponed to provide an opportunity for the Guyana Trades Union Congress to be consulted and a copy of the said Bill be forwarded to us.”
After the commotion in the National Assembly which included an impromptu suspension to allow the Speaker to consider the various proposals, a decision was taken to have the second reading deferred.
Williams, who is also Shadow Labour Minister, has already stated in a recent interview with this newspaper that that the Trade Union Recognition (Amendment) Bill 2008 was seeking to undermine the Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC).
According to Williams, the legislation closely resembles a previous Bill that was tabled by the People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPP/C) in 2006 but was pulled from the House amidst a lambasting for its consequences.
Williams said that this time around the only thing that is different is the language. It is intended to remove the GTUC from the Trade Union’s Representation Certification Board.
He added also that the legislation will marginalise and destroy small unions whilst destroying the aspirations of Hubert Nathaniel Critchlow for a single National Association of Trade Unions.
He said, too, that the amendment will seek to repeal sections of the Principal Act which previously guaranteed a role for the GTUC, which according to Williams, is the only umbrella body recognised by the International Labour Organisation.
The Shadow Minister emphasised that the legislation is in essence seeking to have the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Guyana (FITUG) become the union to be consulted as it relates to the bargaining process.
Clause Four of the amendment calls for the Minister of Labour to consult the most representative organisations of workers and employers in the appointment of the chairman of the Representation Certification Board as against the requirement to consult with the most representative associations of trade unions and employers.
According to Williams, it (the legislation) will remove the GTUC from the Board that approves the certification of small unions.
Another clause in the proposed legislation will allow a union to strike only if a board has not determined the union’s application for certification within four months of the application.
Previously, a union could strike if its application was not determined within a period of two months.
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