GUYSUCO, NAACIE head for arbitration By Nigel Williams

Stabroek News
October 30, 2002

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An arbitration panel is to be set-up by the Ministry of Labour shortly in a bid to end a one-year-old wage dispute between the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GUYSUCO) and the National Association of Agricultural, Commercial and Industrial Employees (NAACIE).

NAACIE had led its workers - around 15% of GUYSUCO's total staff - in a strike last week, protesting the corporation's reluctance to pay an increase in wages/salaries of 38% across the board and a 3%-9% increase in merit increments. The strike action crippled operations at the sugar estates but was called off yesterday by NAACIE, since the union has decided to proceed to arbitration under the instructions of the Labour Ministry. Chief Labour Officer, Mohamed Akeel told this newspaper that he had met with the two sides on Monday in the Ministry's boardroom and it was decided according to Section 41C of the Labour Act that the matter would be taken to arbitration. He said it was a compulsory move made by the ministry.

Akeel had earlier made a proposal to NAACIE and GUYSUCO for them to negotiate a three-year salaries package rather than looking at last year only.

In October 2001 GUYSUCO and NAACIE had deadlocked over the increase in wages and salaries at conciliation after GUYSUCO had rejected the union's proposed increase.

The matter was then referred to the Ministry of Labour which had been dealing with the matter since then. A three-man arbitration panel was set up, but subsequently two members of that group had pulled out.

Both the union and GUYSUCO had told this newspaper last week that they had been considering the multi-year proposal and at Monday's meeting it was decided that the arbitration panel would be guided by that concept. According to Akeel he is hoping to establish the tribunal by next week and hopefully in another six weeks time a decision would be made. Akeel noted too that his ministry took the decision to enforce compulsory arbitration because the strike was threatening the state. He said that Minister of Labour Dale Bisnauth would appoint the arbitration panel.

Meanwhile, Industrial Relations Director of GUYSUCO, Jairam Petam told this newspaper that there had been a full resumption by those workers who had gone on strike. Petam disclosed that his corporation had indicated its willingness to consider the three- year wages/salaries proposal that was made to it by Akeel and even though there had been other issues with regards to the industrial unrest GUYSUCO would be guided by the ministry's ruling.

General President of NAACIE, Kenneth Joseph said that his union is very pleased with the decision taken by the Ministry of Labour.

He said he had been in close contact with his workers and they too were pleased with the decision. Joseph is however, hoping that the matter would be resolved very soon. He said that he feels that the NAACIE-represented staff are not being treated fairly at the corporation and because of that NAACIE is prepared to go the extra mile to ensure that their rights as workers are not trampled upon.