GTUC calls for swift sanctions against those responsible

Guyana Chronicle
March 31, 2000

THE Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC) has added its voice in protest of widespread sexual abuse among women in the timber industry. The umbrella labour body warned that it will demand "swift and extreme sanctions against those responsible".

"Where, in the opinion of the GTUC, there is justification for these allegations, the labour movement will be demanding swift and extreme sanctions against those responsible for perpetrating and/or condoning these dastardly practices," said a statement from the organisation yesterday.

The Executive Council of the GTUC met this week and decided that it should examine the contents of the report issued by consultants from the Caribbean Centre for Development Administration (CARICAD).

The document, which was submitted to the Guyana Forestry Commission (GFC), found that there are "widespread incidents of sexual abuse, demands of sexual favours, harassment or subtle pressures to comply" among women working in Guyana's timber industry.

The CARICAD study was prepared for the British Department for International Development (Caribbean) and Natural Resources International (NRI).

It identified major social issues yet to be dealt with in this country's forestry sector.

These relate to the living and working conditions in situations characteristic of large timber concessions, Amerindian communities, other hinterland and rural communities, and at the individual and organisational levels.

CARICAD consultants found that despite union representation, persons still work in fear of being dismissed or victimised.

GTUC, in its statement yesterday, said although it cannot, at this stage, make a definite comment on the contents of an editorial appearing in the `Guyana Chronicle' on Wednesday, its immediate reaction to the writing is "one of extreme concern".

In the course of its investigations, the GTUC will consult unions representing workers in the timber industry, workers themselves and management.

The GTUC also intends to seek the support of the Ministry of Labour in its quest to realise a transparent and thorough inquiry into the allegations, the statement added.

"It is entirely conceivable that sexual abuse at the workplace takes place to a greater or lesser degree at some places of work.

"In this regard, it is the intention of the GTUC to take immediate action to bring to the attention of its affiliates the desirability of engaging employers on the need to incorporate into Collective Labour Agreements, clauses which address this issue in cases where such clauses are not already in place," the statement added.

Meanwhile, Chief Labour Officer at the Ministry of Labour, Mr Mohamed Akeel yesterday said if there are no provisions in the current Prevention of Discrimination Act or any other to deal with sexual harassment, Acts can be amended to put this type of law into effect.

Last year, 42 employers were taken before the Courts for causes such as non-payment of wages and for not awarding employees holidays, Akeel said.

However, the official said, no one has come forward with recent reports of sexual harassment.

Akeel said his officers are bound by financial and transportation constraints in getting to hinterland areas where there are reports of discrimination.

He said once he sees the CARICAD report which found widespread sexual abuse in the timber industry, an investigation can be conducted and action taken once there is proof of sexual harassment.

Akeel suggested that victims write to him or seek the intervention of trade unions which, if unable to deal with the matter, may seek to approach him on a way forward.

In the wake of the findings of sexual abuse among women in the timber industry, Minister of Human Services and Social Security, Mrs Indra Chandarpal and the National Commission on Women have moved to investigate the matter, prior to necessary action being taken to remedy the situation.