Regional trades union body to probe alleged rights abuses here
Stabroek News
June 20, 2002

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A high-level team from the Inter-American Regional Organisation of Workers (ORIT) will visit Guyana next month on a fact-finding mission, addressing perceived transgressions of human and trade union rights.

ORIT has written to President Bharrat Jagdeo and Opposition Leader Desmond Hoyte informing them of the upcoming visit and its desire to meet Hoyte and the government to discuss the issues.

ORIT said that apart from the visit, it would brief the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions on the developments. More action includes addressing the issue of extra-judicial killings in Guyana at the Organisation of American States, and the addressing of labour rights at the International Labour Organisation.

Vice-President of the Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC), Grantley Culbard, told reporters at a recent press conference that ORIT's team would be led by its General Secretary Luis Anderson. The visit will commence on July 8 and last about four days.

ORIT would also hold discussions with interest groups with a view to bringing about dialogue to address the matters, Culbard said.

In its letter to President Jagdeo, ORIT said that while examining the socio-economic and political developments in the region, its executive council examined the Guyana situation at its board meeting in Caracas, which ended on May 31.

ORIT said statistics had shown that Guyanese workers were expected to carry excessive tax burdens at a time when the business community was being given sizeable concessions from custom and excise duties and tax holidays. The recent termination of the workers' pension fund at the New Guyana Pharmaceutical Corporation was also addressed. ORIT said evidence revealed that government, along with the majority shareholder of the company, took the decision to terminate the fund.

ORIT is aware that government had taken the decision to dispose of its shares subsequent to the termination of the fund. ORIT stated in the letter, that while dealing with the rights of collective bargaining it observed that the Guyana Public Service Union engaged government in 2001 to negotiate for pay increase for its members. ORIT said it was aware that government refused to accede to the union's request to have an arbitration tribunal established to resolve the impasse and, moreover, imposed a five per cent increase on the workers. The government has since gone to court seeking various rulings in its dispute with the union over arbitration.

"It is expected that a government needs to establish satisfactory principles and practices for other employers to follow. This incident falls short of the tenets of good governance," ORIT stated.

The organisation said the issue of unemployment and underemployment was addressed within the context of the impending loss of jobs by bauxite workers at Linden, Kwakwani and Everton. It said reports indicate that while government was informing that workers' jobs would be made redundant, the corresponding responsibility of developing a safety net to protect the decline within families and communities was clearly absent.

ORIT said the current protest by workers and residents from the bauxite communities outside the residence of Prime Minister Sam Hinds was indicative of their loss of faith in the administration's capacity to fairly deal with their problems. "The act by your government of engaging a group of workers from Bermine on 23 May, 2002 to discuss and arrive at agreements outside their elected representatives, points to your administration's effort to undermine the process of freedom of association and the right to free collective bargaining", the group charged. The government has denied this.