Government, GPSU still at odds over pay talks
Guyana Chronicle
April 2, 2002

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THE Government is insisting that the timeframe within which the Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU) proposed arbitration to settle wages and salaries for public servants last year was beyond what is provided for in the Labour Act and provisions of collective bargaining.

But Cabinet Secretary, Dr. Roger Luncheon, who emphasised this point last week, said the Government is committed to negotiations with the union on a three-year wages agreement.

His stand came as the GPSU last week accused the Government of disrespecting the principles of democracy and the rule of law and announced that it will be taking industrial action if the administration remains in breach of the labour agreement and laws.

General Secretary of the union, Mr. Randolph Kirton told a news conference that following an executive meeting last month, the GPSU decided that in keeping with normal industrial relations practice, it will take such action any time after the normal and legally stipulated period of notice.

Luncheon said conciliation talks at the Ministry of Labour were declared deadlocked on November 1 last year and the GPSU did not respond when the Chief Labour Officer threw out the question of arbitration.

He said that according to advice from the Ministry of Public Service, the union formally announced its intention 58 days later, on December 24, to go to arbitration.

According to the legal advice the Government received, this time period was in excess of what is stipulated, he said.

Luncheon said that it was in November 2000 that the GPSU first submitted its claim for wages and salaries for 2001, noting that this was amid the throes of preparations for the general elections of March 2001.

After the People's Progressive Party/Civic was confirmed as the governing party following the elections, he said the Government and union met 14 times between May and November.

He said that on November 1, last, the union did not object when the Government identified its intentions of making a payout "in recognition of the extremely delayed and prolonged negotiations".

The Government went ahead and made a 5.5% increase on the wages and salaries of public servants in December last year.

The administration has reportedly called for a meeting with the union this week in light of the threat to take industrial action.

The GPSU last week said the dispute has not ended claiming that the Government has failed to adhere to provisions in the Terms of Agreement dated June 20, 1999 and cited a number of these.

In relation to a letter of demand in 2000 on the increase in remuneration - salaries, wages and allowances for the years 2001 and 2002 - Kirton noted that the negotiations ended when the Deputy Chief Labour Officer declared a deadlock at the conciliatory stage last year.

He said the Government has not made an offer for increases in allowances for public servants last year and that consequently no deadlock has been or could have been declared.

He recalled that the Government objected and still objects to the payment of increases in allowances for 1999 and 2000 as awarded by the Armstrong Tribunal on the ground that these were not included in the Terms of Reference of the tribunal now that allowances are requested.

Kirton added that the Government, "in its typical autocratic, arbitrary manner", unilaterally and unlawfully decided that the union did not request arbitration within a reasonable time.

He also recalled that in a letter earlier this month, Labour Minister, Dr. Dale Bisnauth, stated that Cabinet had asserted that the GPSU did not request arbitration within a reasonable time and accepted the advice of the Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs that the 1999 Terms of Resumption were not legal and binding within the meaning of the Labour (Amendment) Act of 1984.

"We totally reject Cabinet's assertion that our union did not request arbitration within a reasonable time as false and misleading", Kirton stated.

He claimed that at a meeting last October between the parties, as soon as a deadlock of negotiations was declared, the union gave immediate notice of effecting the arbitration clause.

"We view the Government's unilateral action as part of the continued autocratic arbitrary and total display of disrespect for the principles of democracy and the rule of law", he stated.

Kirton also accused the Government of failing to document its reasons for opposing going to arbitration as set out in the 1999 Terms of Resumption Agreement.

Describing the action as callous, he argued that the administration has acted contrary to the informed advice of Chief Labour Officer, Mr. Mohammed Akeel.

Kirton made several references to the Labour (Amendment) Act 1984 and the Terms of Resumption of Work to which the Government and the unions involved had committed themselves.

The GPSU in December informed the Ministry of Labour that it wanted to go to arbitration in its quest for a pay packet higher than the 5.5 per cent paid out, he said.

The union has also expressed concern at what it claimed was the abuse of the powers of the President regarding the appointments of public officers, which involve expenditure chargeable to the Consolidated Fund, without the approval of the National Assembly.

Kirton said the Government should be familiar with the provision of Article 120 of the Constitution, amended in December 2000 by Act 17/2000 based on the final report of the Oversight Committee on Constitutional Reform.

"Therefore, all employment contracts including those of retirees entered into by the Government of Guyana of which the President is the head, must be approved by the National Assembly", he said.

Kirton accused President Bharrat Jagdeo and Attorney General, Mr. Doodnauth Singh of breaching this constitutional provision for not seeking the approval of the National Assembly before entering into three "secret contracts" at the Attorney General's Chambers, two of which he said were entered into since Mr. Singh assumed office.

"The Attorney General is not above the law, the Cabinet is not above the law, the President should comply with the Constitution. The GPSU calls upon the Government to remedy these blatant breaches and have all the outstanding contracts tabled in the National Assembly soon, including all other additional money received by the recipients of these secret contracts.

"We also call on the Opposition political parties to pressure the Government to comply with the Constitution", he stated.

A letter has since been sent to the President outlining the Government's alleged constitutional breaches, Kirton said.