Public service union issues warning over arbitration
-in letter to Gopaul
Stabroek News
April 23, 2004

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The Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU) yesterday wrote public service head, Dr Nanda Gopaul warning of industrial action if pay arbitration arrangements were not concluded within "reasonable time".

GPSU President Patrick Yarde told Stabroek News that industrial action would be forthcoming if the stalled arbitration process did not get going within two weeks to one month. The government recently suspended talks on arbitration with the union saying that the union's conduct had been unacceptable. Among other things it cited the union's support for the recent rule-of-law march.

According to Yarde, the industrial action if there were no arbitration progress was recommended by the GPSU's Executive Council (EXCO) at a recent meeting and would become effective at a time and date of the union's choosing in keeping with industrial relations principles.

Reacting to the GPSU statement, Gopaul, Permanent Secretary, Public Service Ministry (PSM), insisted that the government will never bargain under duress and that the union should conduct itself in a civil way. Gopaul said it is illegal for the union to participate in secondary action while engaged in discussions at the bargaining table.

The GPSU in the letter to the PSM and the Ministry of Labour said government's neglect in finalising negotiations for arbitration was in breach of Article 3(vi) of the Agreement for the Avoidance and Settlement of Disputes as set out in Section Q7 of the 1987 edition of the public service rules.

The union condemned what it said was the administration's continued insensitive and unlawful conduct in dealing with matters pertaining to the welfare of the members of the public service.

According to the GPSU it was informed that government had halted negotiations for arbitration via an article appearing in the Stabroek News on April 14, 2004.

The article, which was based on a Government Information Agency (GINA) release quoted, Gopaul as saying the decision to discontinue talks was because of inflammatory statements on national television and in public calling on workers to join demonstrations.

The union said it found this perplexing. It alluded to Gopaul's actions while a trade unionist, including aligning himself with a political group calling for the removal of the then government.

Yarde, in the company of Guyana Trades Union Congress General Secretary Lincoln Lewis and its Vice-President, Norris Witter at a press conference yesterday said the union would advise in due course of any planned action.

He said the letter should serve as a warning and that the time given was to satisfy the government which might want to use the excuse that the union was using duress to fulfil its aims.

Lewis, in a statement of solidarity with the GPSU, said he was astounded when government recently disclosed it was prepared to go to arbitration, after Gopaul, at an International Labour Organisation meeting last year at Le Meridien Pegasus, made a case justifying imposing wage increases.

However Gopaul, who is also head of the public service, said the piece was an academic one, which based its conclusions on findings of reputable persons and bodies, including the committee of freedom of the ILO. Thus, his conclusion had nothing to do with the GPSU nor was it government's position per se.

Lewis challenged media personnel to look at Gopaul's presentation to see his analysis.

According to Lewis, for the government to say in 2004 that it was going to arbitration is like playing cricket with a football. But he said the reason for this was because the GPSU had made a credible case to the ILO.

Thus, in order to release itself from some of the pressure from this external body it made a decision to go to arbitration, Lewis said. Yarde has a right to make statements, and trade unionists have a right to influence political, economic and social issues, he added. (Oscar P. Clarke)