A number of unions have expressed alarm about the state of the Department of Labour when it comes to policing the workforce. Workers and
employers alike have been complaining bitterly about the shortage of inspectors from the Labour Department.
In fact yesterday, the General Secretary of the Guyana Trade Union Congress (GTUC), Lincoln Lewis, said that it is difficult for inspectors to be out monitoring.
“We have about five or so inspectors who are stuck in the office taking complaints. They are swamped. Who do you believe are going out? These are issues that are well known and needs to be fixed.”
Lewis, who has been in the trade union business for decades, would know, as he has been complaining.
Joining Lewis in his concerns is the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Guyana (FITUG).
That umbrella body said it is very much concerned that the Department of Labour, Ministry of Social Protection has been unable, in recent times, to adequately fulfill its mandate.
“The department, as it were, followed the demotion of the full-fledged Ministry of Labour following the Coalition Government taking office in 2015. We hasten to remind that a Labour Ministry graced our national landscape since the 1950s until its unceremonious diminution.”
The union body said that the department, it is well recognised, plays an important role to ensure that the rights of the nation’s workers are upheld and that they receive adequate protections at work.
“While we know that the department continues to persevere, at the same time, it is hamstrung by a shortage of staff and skills. Over the years, many skilled and experienced staffers have ended their relationship with the department for varying reasons. This exodus has significantly impacted the department to be fully able and capable.”
The department would be challenged now as Guyana enter into oil and gas.
According to FITUG, the department’s legal skills have been reduced practically to zero following the departure of its legal officers.
“Moreover, its out-of-town offices are particularly affected as well. It brings into obvious question where could workers turn to at this time. The FITUG has consulted the 2019 budget estimates which indicate that Programme 493 which relates to Labour Administration ought to have some 80 staffers at the various levels.”
However, in 2016, according to the Budget Estimates, the department had some 85 staffers.
“The federation while not fully aware of the actual complement of staffers does not believe that the full complement is in place at this time…. Even if the full complement were in place, the departure of many knowledgeable staffers, obviously, has not been helpful.”
FITUG argued that the shortcomings in the department have serious implications for the Guyanese working men and women, especially those who belong to the unorganized sections. “The absence of seemingly critical skills to police the labour market to ensure that workers’ rights and conditions are respected, opens the doors to exploitation and unfavourable conditions-of-work. It keeps out of the reach of the nation’s workers to benefit from their entitlements and to receive protection from unscrupulous employment practices and employers.”
The body noted that the situation of course could not have come at a more inopportune time. “With the nation on the threshold of expectedly massive economic structural changes, the need for a robust, strong and fully functional Labour Department cannot be underscored or overemphasized. There is undoubtedly a clear need to proactively address the situation in the interest of the Guyanese workforce. They certainly would look to the Department to protect them and ensure that what was won by them and those who came before them is defended and maintained.”
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