– Calls for ILO conventions and Decent Work Agenda to be upheld
The Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC) in a statement yesterday indicated that it is concerned with reports, that the Guyana Prison Service has entered into a contract with the Ministry of Local Government to use prisoners on its “Clean-Up My Country” Programme.
“This issue must not be guided by the perception of a group or some members of the public; it must be guided by internationally accepted principles which this country has embraced through the adoption of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Forced Labour Convention No. 29. As long as money is being paid by the State it is engaged in the act of a contract for labour/services,” the Union stated.
It was further pointed out by the Union that Article 2 of the said convention expressly states at “1. For the purposes of this Convention the term forced or compulsory labour shall mean all work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered himself voluntarily.”
It goes on to counsel at ”2. Nevertheless, for the purposes of this Convention, the term forced or compulsory labour shall not include— c) any work or service exacted from any person as a consequence of a conviction in a court of law, provided that the said work or service is carried out under the supervision and control of a public authority and that the said person is not hired to or placed at the disposal of private individuals, companies or associations.”
The GTUC stressed that his qualifier means, if a person is sentenced to community activity then he or she can be assigned work or service.
“The work of the Le Repentir cemetery falls under the purview of the Georgetown Mayor & City Council (M&CC). There is a relationship between the M&CC and two trade unions, the Guyana Labour Union and the Guyana Local Government Officers Union.
The contracting out of any aspect of M&CC’s operations has to be discussed and agreed upon by the parties, guided by international conventions, local laws and Guyana Decent Work Agenda. The work of the cemetery cannot be re-assigned to prisoners; because this act conflicts with ILO Convention which Guyana is a signatory. This revelation is also occurring at a time when there is high unemployment at the national level and the city council is being starved of funding to execute its duties. The non-payment by the State of its rates and taxes, and appropriate subventions hinders the city in discharging its responsibilities to the community.
This society has had enough of government abrogating its responsibilities, violating citizens’ rights, international conventions and universal declarations, in its obsession to score political ‘victories.’ The government must no longer remain unmindful that Guyana continues to attract international condemnation for the violation of Convention 29 in activities such as Child Labour and human trafficking. This country can ill afford to have another protected category violated. Further, the use of prison labour in contractual form is internationally considered an abominable act.
For instance, the resistance to China entering the international community was due in part to accusations that prison labour was used in producing certain goods and services in the commercial marketplace. Today international trade agreements referenced the upholding of ILO Core Labour Standards, of which Convention No. 29 is an integral part, and Guyana must act accordingly.”
The GTUC said it endorses the International Trade Union Confederation’s (ITUC) principle that “Forced labour constitutes the antithesis to decent work and violates all core labour standards…. Moreover, Conventions 29 and 105 are two of the eight core labour standards, which means that the principle of the elimination of forced labour laid down in the Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work should be respected by all ILO Member States because of the very fact of their membership in the Organisation.” (2008)
“Given that Guyana Decent Work Agenda emerged from ILO Core Labour Standards, confirms the government is aware of the importance of avoiding forced or compulsory labour. The GTUC therefore, urges the Minister of Local Government, Norman Whittaker, Shadow Minister of Local Government, Ronald Bulkan, Minister of Home Affairs, Clement Rohee, Shadow Minister of Home Affairs, Winston Felix, and most of all Shadow Minister of Labour, Basil Williams and Minister of Labour, Nanda Gopaul, to ensure we do not exploit prison labour, which would be detrimental to the nation’s reputation, international trade relations and prisoners’ rights.”
The Union concluded by indicating that copies of the statement was being forwarded to the named parties.
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