With key unions still boycotting its annual May Day rally, the Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC) yesterday called for talks with the government and the employers body on a mechanism to deal with wages and conflicts in the public service.
Public service pay has been a frequent flashpoint in recent years and talks have bogged down between the government and the Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU) over increases for 2002 and 2003.
Shifting its annual rally from the National Park to the Critchlow Labour College (CLC) on Woolford Avenue, the GTUC passed five resolutions yesterday.
The body resolved to immediately raise with government an amendment to Act 33 of 1997 to grant powers to the Trade Union Recognition Board (TURB) to appoint all persons required for its work and that all recognition disputes engaging it involving GAWU and others unions be held in abeyance until the decision.
The GTUC also asked workers to approve a resolution to allow it to engage government and the Consultative Association of Guyanese Industry (CAGI) to immediately determine a mechanism for adequately and effectively dealing with wages and salaries and conflict resolution in the public service.
The right of contract workers to be unionised was also highlighted while a resolution condemning employers who try to avoid granting them the right to be part of a union was also passed.
The rally also endorsed a resolution to have the fracture in the trade union movement dealt with under the 1999 memorandum of understanding signed between the unions as well as to re-examine the GPSU's affiliation arrears.
It was also resolved to have unions build strength through mergers to better cater for the needs of its members.
The unity of the trade union movement along with the commitment to ensuring that workers obtain a living wage were among the main topics at the GTUC-sponsored May Day march and rally.
Speaking at the CLC rally, GTUC General Secretary (GS) Lincoln Lewis noted that workers needed to be prepared for the struggle to secure their rights.
Issues confronting the GPSU today and the Guyana Teachers Union (GTU) over inconclusive salary negotiations with the government must be of concern to the entire labour movement, he asserted.
For government or an employer to seek to impose a settlement without the express agreement of the other party must be seen as a departure from and moreso a transgression of the spirit and principle of ILO conventions 97 and 98. After negotiations stalemated with the teachers union and the public service union last year, the government went ahead and announced payouts without the approval of the unions. Both unions are contesting this move.
The GTUC, Lewis announced to loud cheers from the gathering, will stand in solidarity with the GPSU and GTU in their struggles for a better way of life for their members.
He charged that the blatant violation of free collective bargaining by the government must be seen as the beginning of a force leading to dictatorship and must be met with the full strength of the entire labour movement.
Lewis said that women and young people are particularly vulnerable to this form of exploitation. The GTUC he said subscribes to and supports the package of conventions of the ILO dealing with these issues.
He cited conventions 29, 87, 98, 100, 105, 111, 138 and 182 which he said gave persons the right to join trade unions of their choice and organise collectively.
He lashed out at some public officials along with the media whom he said are trying to foster and highlight the perceived disunity in the movement
"Don't tell me that I playing politics, don't tell me that the TUC political, let the politicians, let the leaders of trade unions who are members of central committees of political parties get off of them," Lewis remarked. Lewis appeared to be referring to the main sugar union GAWU, one of whose top leaders, Komal Chand is a member of the PPP Central Committee. GAWU is one of the two key unions which boycotted yesterday's TUC May Day rally.
Every time labour day comes around Lewis said there seems to be an attack on the movement using the rift issue although the TUC had established a committee comprising its president Carvil Duncan and other leaders to pursue matters raised by the unions that chose to be outside the fold.
Lewis said there seems to be an expectation that the movement should be united while other bodies including religious bodies, political parties and others are themselves divided.
According to Lewis, "We have in this country, the Catholics, the Anglicans, the Presbyterians, Lutherans, Methodists, the Hindus... the Muslims, the born again, the come again and the go again. All whose churches have said to us that there is one God ......., if there is one God and they cannot deny that, how do you expect the trade union movement that speaks about bringing physical benefits to workers and citizens through machinery that is influenced by politics to ever unify."
He further said that all those calling for the movement to unify should issue a similar call to the political parties to do the same since they all have a common agenda or keep out of the problems of labour and let them resolve these in due course.
Lewis also touched on the issue of the proposed social contract between government, labour and the private sector which he said the movement had welcomed and had even established a committee to deal with.
He appealed for action on this front and less talk.
On the issue of the Guyana Power and Light, he spoke of the failure of the utility to provide a reliable service while increasing tariffs without proper analysis and justification which he says smacks of arrogance.
Lewis further called for the de-linking of the Trade Union Recognition Board from the Ministry of Labour and the exclusion of the Chief Labour Officer (CLO) from the board where he is currently the secretary.
Lewis questioned the effectiveness of the CLO as secretary of the board since in his substantive post as CLO he is subject to the supervision of the minister.
While offering to re-nominate retired Justice of Appeal Prem Persaud as board chairman, Lewis said the labour movement will not work with the CLO, not because of anything personal, but due to his connection to the ministry as CLO.
The GTUC GS warned organisations that seek to avoid union recognition through the offering of contracts to be on guard as the GTUC intends to take a strong stance against such activities through collective action.
Lewis also called on government to put all utility bodies under regulatory bodies where they could justify the tariff increases for services rendered.
The plight of the GPSU court marshals of the Supreme Court who have not been paid since last year despite a court order to this effect was also highlighted by Lewis who said that an account had been launched at Citizens Bank to assist them in their period of difficulty.
He alluded to the GTUC's decision to hold its rally at its headquarters saying that it was in preparation for a time when someone will come up with the ruling that the movement cannot use the National Park.
TUC President Duncan repeated calls for unity and protection of workers' rights while highlighting the need for the movement to remember the struggles of workers particularly on May Day.
He alluded to the deaths this year of the movement's icon Joseph Pollydore and the Guyana Labour Union's President General and former Executive President Desmond Hoyte while stating that their ideals must be remembered and followed.
He also highlighted the need for accountability of unions especially if they were asking government to exhibit transparency and accountability.
Earlier, the Chairman of the proceedings, GTUC Vice-President, Seelo Baichan, condemned government's attempt to sideline collective bargaining.
Marchers who kicked off from their usual Independence Ground location paraded through several city streets dressed in their red and white May Day garb with some displaying placards on topical issues.
Teachers chanted slogans defending their strike action and vowing to continue until they achieved success.
As the main contingent entered the CLC compound the large GAWU group which was bringing up the rear of the march proceeded on to the NIS ground where they held their own rally. The other key union which boycotted the TUC's proceedings was the National Association of Agricultural, Commercial and Industrial Employees.