Jan 22, 2016 News
…but CEO insists plan is optional
“We are prepared to leave no stones unturned,” said President of the Guyana Postal and Telecommunication Workers’ Union (GPTWU), Mr. Harold Shepherd, when he convened a press conference yesterday to highlight what he described as a
unilateral decision by the Guyana Telephone and Telegraph Company (GTT) to offer an early retirement plan to its employees.
According to Shepherd, GTT in a written correspondence, dated January 5, 2016, which was dispatched to some 150 employees, advised of a ‘GTT Early Retirement Programme’.
The correspondence, according to the GPTWU President, states inter alia “In order to participate in the plan, GT&T employees must be over the age of 55 with ten or more years of service to the Company as of December 31, 2015. In addition the correspondence stated “In order to receive the benefits, each eligible employee must sign a release and waiver of claims against the Company…”
Shepherd noted that, based on the letter, any employee meeting the eligibility criteria will be eligible for: one week’s pay for every year of service but not exceeding 10 weeks’ pay; 100 per cent lump sum payout of such employees’ current pension benefits.
And according to the Company, the programme will remain available to eligible employees until the specified date of January 29, 2016.
The Union, Shepherd claimed, only learnt of the new plan the day after it was announced to employees. And according to him, some employees are not satisfied with the information provided to them regarding this new development.
“Employees who challenge the vagueness of the imposition for specificity and accuracy were told by the Human Resource Department that no figures would be issued via document and the Company refuses to release even the formula being used…” the GPTWU President told media operatives yesterday of the retirement offer.
He added that “the views expressed by the affected employees are that the Human Resource Department, that is tasked to provide more details, is itself unaware of same.”
As such, Shepherd warned that the Union is not prepared to allow the management of GTT “to continue with its callous spate of abuse of the workers’ rights (as) workers rights are fundamental human rights that must be respected.”
He made it clear yesterday that if the company sees the need to restructure the employees’ pension plan, it must have meaningful engagement with the Union, since employees’ pension is part of their condition of service.
Shepherd moreover asserted that the move by the telephone company is one that could be deemed in contravention of the Collective Labour Agreement that exists between the company and the union.
He added that “even though the Union, who has sole bargaining rights for non-management employees…has written to the Chief Executive Officer advising that the letters be withdrawn and for the company to follow the right procedure as set forth in the extant Collective Labour Agreement…to date this has not been done.”
According to Article 33 (1) (a) of the Collective Labour Agreement, “the company and the Union agree that the normal retirement age for Guyana Telecommunication Corporation (GTC) employees who begin serving on or before May 31, 1973, is the later of the date such employees attains 55 years of age or the date he completes 10 years of service. The normal retirement age for all other participants is the later of the date he attains 65 years of age or the date he completes 10 years of service.”
But according to Shepherd, over 95 per cent of the affected employees commenced working with GTC/GTT after 1973.
Further still, he emphasised that “management’s decision to send the voluntary retirement letter to employees who are 55 years of age and over without engaging the Union is also an infringement of Article 147 of the Constitution of the Co-operative Republic of Guyana.”
According to Shepherd, Article 147 expressly states “where there exists a Trade Union recognition, the employer is obligated to treat with the Union in good faith.”
He added too that the decision taken by GTT’s management is a flagrant disregard for Article 23 (1) of the Trade Union Recognition Act No. 33 of 1997 which states: “where a trade union obtains a certificate of recognition for workers comprised in a bargaining unit in accordance with this Part, the employer shall recognise the Union. And the union and the employer shall bargain in good faith and enter into negotiations with each other for the purpose of collective bargaining.”
As such, Shepherd warned that “the management of GTT is hereby placed on notice that they cannot break the resolve of the GPTWU since our membership are prepared to stand resolutely against such a blatant disregard of their rights.”
And Shepherd intimated yesterday too that the Union is prepared, if necessary, to take some form of action to ensure that GTT reconsiders its programme. “In the industrial relations arena there are several things that a union can do. We can seek redress through the Ministry of Labour and we also have the courts, and we are prepared to use one of those channels to ensure that the company gets our message that the letters must be withdrawn, and follow the right procedure, which is to engage the Union that represent those employees,” Shepherd said. He was supported yesterday by the Union’s General Secretary, Ms. Eslyn Harris.
If the letters are not withdrawn, Shepherd noted that the first move that will be embraced by the Union is to have workers commence some form of industrial action which could range from a ‘go slow’ to a picketing exercise.
But according to GTT CEO, Mr. Justin Nedd, in an invited comment yesterday, the early retirement programme is in fact a voluntary scheme.
“We are not forcing anybody to do anything; if people don’t believe that it is for them they are within their right not to accept it. We are just trying to regularise the pension plan,”said Nedd, as he recalled engaging some of the workers recently, in order to address concerns they have with the programme.
“We heard that they didn’t get answers and we subsequently called a meeting to address any concerns, and we believe these were addressed,” he noted, adding that “I am not sure what is vague, and there is a ‘point person’ that they can escalate any question to…so there is nothing sinister (about this programme).”
Nedd in speaking on the issue yesterday maintained that “this is a matter that is very serious to the employees and the Company and we are doing this to ensure that the pension plan is safe and viable in the long term.”
When asked if GTT is prepared to consult with the Union at this point, Nedd said, “Of course! We are always willing to talk to the Union. They are a key stakeholder in our business.”
“The Union wrote (to me) and I responded to them trying to clarify, but this may not have been adequate,” he related.
GTT in its voluntary retirement announcement letter, which was signed by Nedd, clearly stated that the company was willing to answer all questions employees have relating to the programme, and further attached a series of ‘frequently asked questions’ for the edification of employees.
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