GPSU plans to strike
Gopaul hoping for more talks
Stabroek News
March 27, 2002

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The Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU) has formally advised the government that it intends to call a strike over what it said was the latter's failure to honour a 1999 agreement on the use of arbitration to settle wage disputes.

The action, according to President of the union, Patrick Yarde, will take effect unless government agrees to review its position on Clause 8 (ii) of the terms of resumption agreement, dated June 20, 1999.

Contacted by Stabroek News yesterday on the matter, Permanent Secretary in the Public Service Ministry (PSM), Dr Nanda Gopaul, acknowledged receipt of the letter from the union and expressed disappointment that the union has resorted to such action. He was hopeful that there could be further talks on the matter.

Interpreting for this newspaper what is the normal and legally stipulated notice prior to the commencement of industrial action, Dr Gopaul stated that according to the Public Utilities and Public Health Services Undertakings Act a month's notice had to be given. This, he said, was due to the various agencies that are represented by the GPSU and the time limit for notification.

Touching on the thorny issue, Dr Gopaul stated that it is the government's view that the union took 54 days to formally apply for arbitration, thereby exceeding the time limit under normal industrial relations practices.

It was his hope that the union would have used the prevailing good industrial relations climate to pursue discussions aimed at reaching agreement on a new multi-year package to cover wages and salaries for public servants.

In a letter to the Permanent Secretary of the Public Service Ministry (PSM) dated March 20, signed by General Secretary (ag) of GPSU, Surendra Persaud, it was stated that the union, following a meeting of its executive on March 15, had decided that in keeping with normal industrial relations practices it would proceed to take industrial action after the normal and legally stipulated notice, commencing from the receipt of the letter, so long as the government remained in breach of both the agreement and the law.

A letter was also sent to Minister of Labour, Dr Dale Bisnauth on March 21, alerting him to the union's intention to call a general strike of its membership in protest at the government's failure to honour its commitment to its members.

In the letter to Gopaul - copied to President Bharrat Jagdeo, Public Service Minister, Dr Jennifer Westford and others, the union made reference to its letter of August 11, 2000 dealing with increases in remuneration for its members for the year 2001 and 2002.

The GPSU at a press conference yesterday strongly condemned what it said is the government's "continued autocratic, arbitrary and total display of disrespect for principles of democracy and the rule of law."

The press conference at the union's Regent and New Garden Street headquarters yesterday saw Chief Industrial Relations Officer of the GPSU, Randolph Kirton denying that the union did not request arbitration within the stipulated period.

He said the arbitration clause was activated following the declaration of a deadlock at a meeting of October 18, 2001

between the union and the PSM at the Labour Ministry.

This was, however, denied by Dr Gopaul who stated that it was the ministry's official who had on that occasion indicated to the union that it was free to move to arbitration which it took 54 days to respond to.

The union said it had been advised that Clause 8 (ii) of the terms of resumption agreement which deals with arbitration is legal and binding within the meaning of Section 28A and 28B of the Labour (Amendment) Act 1984 and that its opinion was consistent with that of the views of the Chief Labour Officer who had invited both parties to submit arbitration proposals.

The union stated that although government informed it through notices on January 29 and recently on March 20 that it opposes going to arbitration over the 2001 wages payout, it has yet to find it necessary to document its reasons for opposing arbitration under the terms set out in the 1999 terms of resumption agreement.

Officials close to the PSM had previously argued that it was improper for the union to call a strike when the two sides had clearly been negotiating a two-year deal. The PSM had said that what the union now had to do was to concentrate on negotiations for 2002 even if it was unhappy with the final 2001 position. Only at the end of 2002 could it reasonably apply the strike option. The government had offered 5.5% as a final figure for 2001, far below what the union was demanding.

The PSM is expected to react to the union's letter today. (Oscar P. Clarke)