Bisnauth to unions: work for unity, stop trash talking
Stabroek News
May 14, 2004

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Minister of Labour, Dr Dale Bisnauth delivering the feature address yesterday at the 48th delegates' conference of the National Association of Agricultural, Commercial and Industrial Employees. (Ken Moore photo)

Minister of Labour, Dr Dale Bisnauth says union leaders have to stop playing politics and bashing each other and start finding ways in which they can reunite the movement.

He also urged the trade unions estranged from the umbrella Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC) notably the National Association of Agricultural, Commercial and Industrial Employees (NAACIE) and the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) to stop their trash talking and get down to serious talks to reunite with the TUC. Both unions have publicly stated that there needs to be greater transparency, accountability and reforms within the TUC before they can return.

Bisnauth, who was at the time delivering the feature address at the opening session of NAACIE's 48th delegates conference at the Umana Yana, observed that workers everywhere were concerned about a good life and it was time they asked their unions the serious question, "Why am I part of a trade union?"

"Our unions have to get back to the fundamentals because the cry of the heart is for rice and bread," Bisnauth declared.

The minister said ever since the split with some of the unions from the TUC, there has been much talk but no action. According to the minister the time for casting blame is over and now is the time for the trade union movement to find solutions to its problems.
The audience at NAACIE's opening session of its 48th delegates' conference. Seated in front row from left to right are, General Secretary of CCWU, Grantley Culbard; David Yhann Jnr; former President, Mrs Janet Jagan; and Seepaul Narine, general secretary

Bisnauth said he was not pleased with the way things have been progressing in the movement, noting that both the TUC and the other unions that pulled out are responsible for the problems the movement is facing.

The minister said it was time trade unions revisit the fundamentals of their establishment, noting that whatever the changes might be, the cry among the working class is for a good life. He said the reasons the pioneers of the movement in Guyana succeeded was because they had a passion for a good life, a passion for freshness and creativity and a passion to defend workers' rights.

He urged the unions to resist the exercise of authority that manipulates power, resist every form of manipulation, resist the denial of rights of any groups and the exploitation of women.

Kenneth Joseph, General President of NAACIE in his opening address told the conference that NAACIE is one of the few unions that can produce annual audited reports. He said the delegates conference is a special and significant milestone in the work of the trade union, noting that it provides members with the opportunity to interrogate their past, take stock of where they are and to chart a strategic path for the future.

Joseph said the conference was being held at a very critical time for the labour movement.

He said the expectations of workers are high as they continue to demand that their unions negotiate for wages to provide a decent standard of living. Joseph said privatisation, merging of entities, outsourcing and multi-skilling have given rise to much uncertainty among workers regarding their employment conditions. According to him, over the years they have seen the passage of several pieces of labour legislation, but what was now needed was for there to be an effective mechanism in the courts to expedite industrial disputes.

Joseph noted that they had expected that the 2004 budget would have addressed the burning question of the income tax threshold in a real and significant way so that the low-income earners who are the majority would have benefited from increased take- home pay.

Joseph said NAACIE along with other unions had made joint representation for the entire income tax regime to be revamped but to their disappointment nothing was done. He added that the government had given the commitment to have comprehensive tax reforms implemented in 2003 but had failed to deliver. On the issue of his union's break away from the TUC, Joseph said, the TUC is causing the hopelessness of the wage and salary earners of Guyana. He observed that successes through organised labour are rapidly on the decline while disrespect by the government and employers is on the increase.

Joseph remarked that the just concluded May Day rally which should have demonstrated worker unity was reduced to a 'buse out' with the umbrella body.

Joseph said through the resuscitated Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Guyana (FITUG), NAACIE hopes, along with other respected and concerned labour leaders and their membership, to be able to convince the TUC that democracy, accountability, respect and success for workers and their families are their duties.

The three-day conference which is being attended by delegates from all over the country is being held under the theme "Resolutely defending and consolidating our gains". Delegates are expected to elect new officers and also decide on NAACIE's position on the TUC.

Among those who attended the opening session were former President, Mrs Janet Jagan and several union leaders.