Apr 09, 2018 News
Attorney at Law Christopher Ram has criticized Government over what he deemed to be its negligible salary increases to workers, while slamming trade union leaders whom he said are failing miserably while enjoying much better standards of living.
Delivering the feature address at the recent triennial Conference of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Guyana (FITUG), Ram also noted that the coalition government has failed to have a substantive Ministry of Labour, It has also neglected to pass a single piece of worker-related or primary social legislation.
According to the attorney the APNU+AFC government has passed the midway stage of its term in government, hence it seems fair to assess its contribution to enhancing and improving the position of workers in the country.
He pointed out that from January 1, 2017, the national minimum wage for the private sector was increased to $255 per hour or $10,200.00 per week or $44,200.00 per month, “an amount that even a single individual would find impossible to sustain the minimum dietary requirements without consideration of rent or any of the basic comforts that make life worth living.”
Further, Ram remarked that despite having the largest number of Ministries and Ministers since 1966, President David Granger could not find room for a dedicated senior Ministry and Minister of Labour.
He also accused government of failing to pass a single piece of worker-related or primary social legislation. He said that the government continues to violate the constitutionally guaranteed right to free collective bargaining and routinely and arbitrarily imposes increases without consultation, let alone negotiations.
Even further, Ram highlighted the fact that for several months now, a new Trades Union Recognition Board has not been constituted, “even as the Government continues to ignore Article 13 and Article 149 C in relation to involving the citizenry in matters affecting their interest.”
“But the ultimate indignity from the Government to the Trade Union movement came from Minister Keith Scott who described the leadership of the movement as “impotent”. While under public demands the Minister walked back from the insult, he received no reprimand from the President or any member of the Cabinet. Without in any way excusing the crudeness of the Minister’s language, it may be that he was trying to point out what in my view is a crisis of leadership in the labour movement.”
Ram told those at the conference that democracy in Guyana owes its birth and development to the labour movement in the persons of Hubert Nathaniel Critchlow, Cheddi Jagan and Linden Forbes Sampson Burnham. “Yet for some time, we have witnessed the slow and painful crippling of the movement under its current leadership comprising individuals who seem to have no new idea, no vision and no energy, and to put it bluntly, no capacity to advance the interests of the workers. This leadership has allowed industries and new employers to pass them by with the result that the representation of the labour force among employers and sectors that arose in the past twenty years is probably zero.”
Ram said that in terms of their activism, when the leaders do appear, it is to lead their workers on Labour Day of each year made more famous for the ‘after-sport’ than for any serious resolutions.
“Then they retreat into hibernation for the next 364 days except when periodic union elections are due, weighted heavily in their favour, shutting out any youthful challenges, stunting development and often killing democracy.”
Ram said that many of the leaders enjoy job security on the backs and dues of workers who under Collective Agreements signed by the very leaders are subject to mandatory retirement age.
“As we heard in the reports a short while ago, changes come only with death, in a system that can fairly be described as office for life.
“These leaders have so bent the rules in their favour that challenges at election time are invariably doomed to failure.”
Ram said that the system for the election of office bearers in the Unions is so arranged that the membership finds it almost impossible to make personnel changes.
The lawyer said that the Government, which finds the leaders weak and ineffective, and which has its own democratic challenges, enjoys and benefits from the status quo. “In that sense, the leadership, instead of making the Unions strong, actually does the opposite.”
Ram insists that the whole structure of the movement needs to change. He said that term and age limits need to be introduced and new blood nurtured. But even as he made those recommendations, Ram expressed little hope of change. “I must confess to a total lack of hope that things will change and as I look to the future, all I see is the further decimation of the movement by its leadership.”
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