Union thumbs its nose at public service circular on protest action

Stabroek News
April 10, 2001

The Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU) is steadfast in its decision to continue protest action against Dr Roger Luncheon's re-appointment as head of the Presidential Secretariat (HPS).

This is despite a circular issued to public servants by Permanent Secretary of the Office of the President/Public Service Management (PSM), Dr Nanda Gopaul, that "any public servant who is seen publicly demonstrating during working hours would be in serious breach of the Public Service rules."

Dr Gopaul told Stabroek News that he had merely restated the rules governing the public service in the circular. He said the circular was issued after a public call was made by GPSU's acting general secretary, Randolph Kirton, on television about protest action, when the PSM was unaware of any notice of a trade dispute.

At a press conference yesterday, Kirton, described the issuing of the circular as an example of "the unbending attitude of the PPP/Civic government."

He said that the circular, issued by Dr Gopaul and dated April 6, was in response to a letter sent to Dr Gopaul informing him that the union would be staging a picketing exercise against Dr Luncheon's appointment.

Kirton said the union saw Dr Luncheon as head of the public service and Dr Gopaul as permanent secretary as a "sinister combination whose objective is both to politicise the public service and emasculate the GPSU."

President of the GPSU, Patrick Yarde, who shared the press conference with Kirton, said the union had a clear position on the issue, and that was that it would not compromise nor cease any action until the HPS' appointment was rescinded.

He explained that not every member was required, at this stage, to be involved in the picketing but the GPSU had issued a notice for them to be on call for industrial action, which might take other forms.

He pointed out that once a union had recognition rights and gave notice of industrial action, then it was acting within its rights. "This issue will have very serious consequences for this country," Yarde warned.

Dr Gopaul said that his circular was dated April 5 and the letter to him by the GPSU was dated April 6 and received yesterday. He explained that the circular reminded heads of departments about the working hours in the public service and that workers should be on the job during these hours.

The circular stated that for any absence prior approval must be had or, if not, a report must be made to the head of PSM.

Dr Gopaul asserted that the circular was not threatening in any way. He pointed out that there was no trade dispute and for the GPSU to become involved in protest over Dr Luncheon's appointment would be tantamount to being political.

"The union has no locus standi on the matter. The post [of HPS] is not within its bargaining unit," Dr Gopaul stated.

The protest over Dr Luncheon's continued yesterday morning outside the Office of the President but turned violent when police clashed with protesters.

Kirton described the police action as a "vicious attack" where protesters "were greeted with tear gas and gunfire."

He said the police had indicated they were using only pellets but showed reporters a spent live round, which he said was one of several fired by the police force's Special Target Force popularly known as 'the Black Clothes Police'.

A visibly upset Yarde, who was on the scene with Kirton during the police action, stated that what occurred outside the Office of the President was provoked by the police.

Yarde said that members of the Special Target Force would not be allowed to cause terror in the town.

"If they won't stop it, we will put a stop to it... The police will not be permitted to abuse people's rights," he declared.