Jan 17, 2022 Letters
Seepaul Narine is going where his predecessor, the late Komal Chand, never went. Reference is made to his letter “GAWU utilises other avenues to ensure workers receive justice” (SN Jan 14, 2022) in response to yours truly “There is no equity in what GAWU describes and that of BCGI by the Ministry of Labour” (SN, Jan 13, 2022).
Whereas Komal opted for public silence against the PPP government trampling on the rights of some workers and the violating of Labour Laws and industrial relations practices, Seepaul is acting as though he’s the one charged the responsibility of carrying the torch to justify these injustices.
GAWU is not faulted for being the industrial arm of the PPP because the constitutional right to freedom of association is respected (Article 147). The principle holds true for Seepaul who is in the party leadership. Where he and I shall part ways is his selective application of the universally acceptable principles that ought to bind all trades unionists, regardless of political association.
His memory is jolted to some of the PPP’s most recent acts of preferential treatment to GAWU:
a) Last December the government began paying out a quarter-million-dollar each to thousands of former sugar workers who were already compensated under the Termination and Severance Pay Act. An Act which yours truly, as General Secretary of the Guyana Bauxite & General Workers Union (GB&GWU), and team laid the foundation for, having successfully written and negotiated the first Redundancy Package in Guyana with LINMINE in 1993.
No other group of workers in Guyana’s history, outside of sugar workers in December 2021, has received Termination Benefit under the law and the government disbursed another set of money as part of a Compensation Package. It should be noted some of these same workers have been reemployed in GuySuCo. GAWU applauded the disbursement and in their statement (October 5, 2021) stated the payout was welcome in light of what the Union felt was the “undisguised attempt [by the APNU+AFC government] to punish sugar workers and the sugar industry.”
Seepaul is reminded workers laid off by the Bauxite Company Guyana Incorporated (BCGI) were not paid their correct redundancy benefit, which the GB&GWU is fighting for, nor have they received the quarter-million-dollars payout. The hundreds of public sector workers dismissed since the PPP return to office, and who fall under various bargaining units, have not been the recipient of that quarter-million payout. If this isn’t a case of preferential treatment for GAWU, what is?
BCGI workers are not asking for preferential treatment. They are demanding their grievances be addressed consistent with the Grievance Procedure in the Collective Labour Agreement (CLA). It is the Ministry of Labour that has the responsibility to conciliate in disputes brought to its attention. The BCGI matter is one such.
b) Last September, sugar workers at Albion Estate proceeded on strike action for better pay. The Ministry of Labour moved with alacrity to conciliate in the grievance. Within five days GAWU and GuySuCo signed an agreement to resolve the issue which resulted in sugar workers being properly compensated.
The alacrity to which the Ministry has moved to resolve GAWU’s grievances the same treatment is not applied to unions such as the GB&GWU, Guyana Teachers Union, Guyana Public Service Union because these unions are not aligned to the PPP.
I’d be more than obliged to provide more evidence for Seepaul that GAWU enjoys preferential treatment. Unlike GAWU that is being made to feel so entitled, which yours truly does not begrudge in principle, similar treatment must be meted for other workers and their unions.
The government’s failure to treat all workers equal under the law, in their policies and programmes confirm the position they are discriminating against sections of the workforce. Such discriminatory practices are not only unconstitutional but are escalating ethnic tension, division and working class disunity given how the workforce is configured.
Seepaul should publicly say to the workers of this nation what “other avenues” GAWU is utilising to get their grievances resolved since other unions are using the basic industrial relations procedures ensconced in the Grievance Procedure of their CLAs, which are not dissimilar from the Grievance Procedure in GAWU’s CLAs. In meantime, the Ministry of Labour and Minister Hamilton are again reminded of their legal obligation to all unions to resolve the outstanding grievances lying on their desks.
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