TUC grant withheld as no report provided on previous subvention -Bisnauth By Oscar P. Clarke
Stabroek News
June 22, 2004

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The Guyana Trades Union Congress' (GTUC) subvention for 2003 was withheld not as an act of malice, but rather because of its non-conformity with procedures.

Speaking to Stabroek News last week, Minister of Labour, Human Services and Social Security, Dr Dale Bisnauth said the GTUC was required, like other subvention agencies, to submit information setting out how they had spent the previous year's sum as well as how they planned to spend that for 2003.

According to Dr Bisnauth, while this was never the situation in the past, a government review and revision of the list of similar agencies deemed it a requirement to benefit from the national purse.

Recently, several trade union leaders in a joint press release had questioned government's motive in withholding the GTUC's subvention for 2003.

When contacted by this newspaper, Bisnauth said the GTUC was not the only agency asked to submit a report on how it has spent government funds and a proposal on how it intends to spend like sums. And like other agencies that had failed to respond to the queries for the information, the GTUC had its subvention withheld.

However, GTUC General Secretary Lincoln Lewis who produced documents to show that the organisation had written to Bisnauth on the issue on February 26, 2003 disputed the minister's version of events.

Lewis showed this newspaper correspondence addressed to Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Labour, Human Services and Social Security, Mitradevi Ali on March 17, 2003, copied to Bisnauth setting out the GTUC's work programme for the year 2003.

According to the correspondence to Ali, the GTUC programme was for $9.8 million for 2003, of which $1.2 million was targeted at supporting visits to work sites in various regions to meet workers, and some $5 million for leadership training for labour leaders in project management and social contract among other areas.

Meanwhile the minister was not able to say whether the trade union body will receive its grant this year since it had already "blotted [its] copy book." But he was of the view that if the GTUC could satisfy the conditions for receiving such a grant it was likely to get it.

The minister had alluded to correspondence between his ministry and the GTUC in which the union questioned the reasons for having to answer certain questions before getting the subvention.

However, Lewis was adamant that there has been no response from the minister to correspondence sent to him from the GTUC.

Lewis, in his letter to Bisnauth, had indicated that from his understanding, the matter of the subvention had never been one between the PS at the Labour Ministry and the umbrella body. Rather, it had its origins in an engagement between the government and the GTUC in 1976, which was supported by then opposition leader Hon. Cheddi Jagan and subsequently budgeted for following bilateral discussions between the Finance Minister and the GTUC.

The correspondence to Bisnauth also raised the issue of principle stating that any contemplated departure from what was the normal practice required an engagement between the parties concerned. Lewis saw the approach of the PS simply writing to the GTUC demanding compliance with unknown stipulations as being unprincipled.

The letter had also indicated the GTUC's willingness to engage the minister in discussions with regard to the establishing of practices to govern the disbursement of the subvention based on principle.

Meanwhile, Minister Bisnauth is adamant that government complied with requirements of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) with respect to selection of a worker's representative to attend the recently held ILO Convention in Geneva.

According to the minister, the ILO for credentials purposes, requires that the ministry consult with workers' organisations and as such meetings were held with both the GTUC and the resuscitated Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Guyana (FITUG). It was based on these consultations that government chose Clerical and Commercial Workers' Union (CCWU) General Secretary, Grantley Culbard who straddles both the TUC and FITUG, Bisnauth said.

The minister's response was sought following the GTUC's claims at a recent press briefing that government had flouted and transgressed law, principles and conventions and practices as it related to the selection of a nominee to attend the 92nd session of the ILO conference.

GTUC General Secretary Lincoln Lewis at the briefing had said that ILO statutes with respect to certain matters are clear especially where it relates to who shall be accredited as a bona fide representative at the conference.

Lewis pointed to the statute which read: "Each member state is represented by a delegation consisting of two government delegates, an employer delegate, a worker delegate, and their respective adviser (employer and worker delegates are nominated in agreement with the most representative national organisations of employers and workers).

"Each delegate has the same rights, and all can express themselves freely and as they wish. So it happens that worker and employer delegates sometimes vote with their government's representatives or against each other. This diversity of view however, does not prevent decisions being adopted by very large majorities, in some cases even unanimously."

Lewis also alluded to the position outlined in the Guyana Trades Union Recognition and Certification Act, which says the recognised body shall be that which has the majority of affiliates. He said it was clearly visible to society that by way of numbers the GTUC was the workers' federation with the largest number of unions affiliated.

But Bisnauth demurred stating that the ILO requires the delegate to be representative of the majority of workers, as opposed to workers' unions.

According to Bisnauth, Culbard was selected because of his position in both the TUC and FITUG, as well as his experience with the workings of the ILO conferences having attended previously as an observer when employed with the Caribbean Congress of Labour (CCL).

He denied any malicious intent with regard to the selection of Culbard. Commenting on the issue yesterday, Lewis maintained that the Trade Union Recognition Law stipulates that it is the most representative association of trade union that the minister should consult with rather than with workers as he said.

Lewis further contended that Culbard was not representing the GTUC as it had already indicated its choice to the minister in consultations with him on the issue.

He said the GTUC was at a loss to understand the rationale behind the omission of its nominee Andrew Garnett for the FITUG Chairman and TUC Vice President in clear contravention of national law and ILO statutes and principles.

Meanwhile, Stabroek News understands that the GTUC's President Carvil Duncan, without the consent of the body's executive, had endorsed Culbard's selection.

Efforts to confirm this with Duncan yesterday proved futile. Calls to his office saw this newspaper being advised that he is overseas. However, this newspaper was informed that correspondence to this effect is in the possession of the GTUC.