DERELICTION OF DUTY AND BLATANT DISCRIMINATION BY PPP--PRESS RELEASE Monday 7 June 2010





THE RUSAL/GB&GWU INDUSTRIAL DISPUTE:DERELICTION OF DUTY AND BLATANT DISCRIMINATION BY PPP

NO CONFIDENCE MOTION IN MINISTER OF LABOUR

The Debate in the National Assembly on Thursday last, (June 3, 2010), on a Motion of No Confidence in the Minister of Labour, Mr. Mansoor Nadir, exposed the hypocrisy of the PPP/C Administration in dealing with the welfare of Guyanese workers; their obvious determination to violate the Constitution and the Laws of Guyana; and, laid bare the discriminatory practices that have now become endemic in their Administration.

• That it required the Parliament to deliberate on a worker’s issue, which could have been expeditiously resolved in accordance with existing laws, is, by itself, indicative of the intransigence and lack of concern for workers rights by the PPP/C Administration.

RED HERRINGS

The issues which the National Assembly should have addressed were,

• Whether the Minister of Labour had legal and Constitutional obligations in dealing with trade disputes and whether he failed to carry out those legal responsibilities for the settlement of the dispute between the Guyana Bauxite & General Workers Union (GB&GWU) and the Bauxite Company of Guyana Inc. (BCGI)?
• Whether the Government of Guyana was honouring the many conventions of the ILO to which it was a signatory?
• Whether it was lawful for RUSAL owned BCGI to arbitrarily and unilaterally de-recognise the recognized GB&GWU; and
• Whether the Ministry of Labour and the Chief Labour Officer was required under the Labour Laws, (Chapter 98:01) to make an impartial and professional intervention in the trade dispute between the BCGI and the GB&GWU?

Regrettably, the contributions of PPP/C Members of Parliament to the debate in the National Assembly were obviously intended to obfuscate those issues, which the motion intended to address. Several “red herrings” were introduced. Consequently, Guyanese who followed those contributions would have been provided with little information on the substance of the motion and the response of the Government to the specific issues. It is evident that the Government had no answer to the facts that were presented.

Prime Minister Hinds engaged in a dissertation on the world economic situation, but could not avoid the admission that BCGI was in breach of the Law when they purported to derecognize the Union. Yet, despite this admission, he failed to outline the Government’s response to this admitted breach. On the contrary, his presentation justified the actions of the Company and clearly indicated that the Government had already adjudicated the issue before any investigation had been conducted as required by law. The Prime Minister stated, to the amazement of members of the National Assembly, that the Bauxite workers were dismissed for riotous behaviour, but he could present no information of any police or other investigation that could support such a finding. MOREOVER, in his usual penchant for putting his foot in his mouth, admitted to advising BCGI how to treat with the Union. He proceeded to deliberate on the options presented by the Company to the Union and criticized the Union for the decisions taken by them. Unwittingly, the Prime Minister was revealing that the PPP/C had usurped the functions, which the Ministry of Labour should have undertaken according to law. The disgraceful and unjust treatment of the bauxite workers is also an indictment on the entire Cabinet for breach of the Constitution. The Prime Minister promised that his parliamentary team would have bolstered his arguments but, like the West Indies team of late, they failed to score.

Presidential Adviser, Mr. Odinga Lumumba used his presentation to launch into a tirade against the PNCR, including describing former PNCR Leader and late President, Mr. Hugh Desmond Hoyte, as thugs. He was upbraided and forced to withdraw his unsavory remarks. MP, Neil Kumar, in similar fashion, launched another tirade on the GB &GWU accusing the Union of unaccountability and of their leaders being stooges of the PNCR throughout the union’s existence. MP, Anhil Nandalall described the motion as “all fluff and devoid of substance”, while the Minister of Labour could not point to a single act that he or his Ministry performed in keeping with the Laws of Guyana. His recourse was in his self-serving statement that, “I have some amount of confidence in my competence”. Nadir was obviously confused. He ought to have recognized that the issue was whether the people of Guyana and, more particularly, the workers of Guyana, had confidence in his stewardship. It was obvious that none of the speakers had any answer to the charges of serious dereliction of duty and breach of the labour laws by the Labour Minister as presented by PNCR Shadow Minister, Mr. Basil Williams when he moved the Motion.

THE LAW AND THE CONSTITUTION

What is the Constitutional and Legal Responsibility of a Minister and to whom is he accountable?

Article 106 of the Constitution provides for the President to appoint his Cabinet and Ministers, but specifies at Article 106 (2) that they, “shall be collectively be responsible … to the Parliament”. Article 107 states specifically that, “The President shall appoint a Minister …. to be answerable to the National Assembly therefore on his or her behalf”. While the Minister of Labour is a creature of the President, accountability to the Parliament is a constitutional requirement and not an option.

It should be noted that a Minister, on being appointed, is required to subscribe to an Oath to honour and uphold the Constitution and the laws of Guyana. The Minister of Labour is charged with the responsibility of ensuring compliance with the provisions of the Labour Act Cap. 98:01 and the Trade Union Recognition Act, Chapter 98:07. These Laws confer substantial powers on the Minister of Labour to take prompt and decisive action to settle trade disputes and protect the rights of Guyanese workers as guaranteed by the Constitution of Guyana. Section 37 (1) of the Trade Union Recognition Act further empowers the Minister to make regulations generally for carrying out the provisions of that Act, including, regulations prescribing anything which is to be prescribed under this Act. The Government of Guyana is also a signatory to ILO Conventions Nos. 87, 98, 135, 154, 158 and 163, which impose the obligation on the Government to protect and advance the rights and interests of Guyanese workers. It is also the obligation of the Minister of Labour to ensure that the provisions of those conventions are honoured in Guyana.

For example, Section 4 of the Labour Act Cap. 98:01 delegates powers to the Minister of Labour in cases of trade disputes including:

a) inquiring into the causes and circumstances of the difference;
b) taking such steps, as to him, may seem expedient for the purpose of promoting a settlement of the difference; and,
c) with the consent of both parties to the difference, or of either of them, or without their consent, refer the matter for settlement to the arbitration of an arbitration tribunal consisting of one or more persons appointed by the Minister.

Section 6, of the said Labour Act gives the Minister of Labour the power to appoint an Advisory Committee in case of existing or apprehended trade disputes, which Committee shall inquire into the matters referred to it and shall report thereon and make such recommendations as it may deem expedient to the Minister.

The Trade Union Recognition Act, Chapter 98:07, provides for the improvement and promotion of industrial relations by the establishment of procedures for the certifying of trade unions as recognised majority unions and for the matters connected therewith. Section 23 (1) of this Act states that where a trade union obtains a certificate of recognition for workers comprised in a bargaining unit, the employer shall recognise that union, and the union and the employer shall bargain in good faith and enter into negotiations with each other for the purpose of collective bargaining.

Section 23 (3) of the said Act states that an employer who fails to comply with the provisions of subsection (1) shall be guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to a fine, and, in addition, to a fine for every day the breach continues until the employer has complied with such provisions.

Section 26 (1) of the said Act states that no worker shall be dismissed, or have his employment adversely affected, or his position altered by his employer, by reason of the circumstances that the worker,

(a) is an officer, delegate or member of a trade union; or,
(b) has for reasonable cause absented himself from work without leave after he has made an application for leave for the purpose of carrying out his duties under the Act as an officer or delegate of a trade union and such leave has been unreasonably refused or withheld.

If an employer contravenes any of the above provisions, that employer shall be guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to a fine, and, the magistrate making the order for conviction, shall also order that the worker be reimbursed any wage lost by him/her and direct that, notwithstanding any rule of law to the contrary, the worker be reinstated in his former position or in a similar position with terms and conditions of employment no less favourable.

DID THE MINISTER UPHOLD THE LAW?

The substantive issue for the National Assembly was, not a determination of the issues that caused the trade dispute or to pronounce on the merits of either side, but whether the Minister honoured his obligations outlined above as required by law.

The issues relating to the trade dispute have been ventilated in the media both locally and internationally over the last seven months since the bauxite workers at Kwakwani exercised their constitutional and legal rights to strike on 22 November 2009. In retaliation, BCGI issued suspension and dismissal letters to fifty-seven (57) of those workers, many of whom are union leaders. Some workers were, upon resumption of work and upon condition of being in continued employment, forced to sign a company prepared petition requesting the de-legitimization of the Union. On 1 December 2009, the company notified the Ministry of Labour, that it had arbitrarily terminated the Collective Labour Agreement and commenced the process of derecognising the legitimate union. To date the dispute remains unresolved.

The only way that the Minister could have vindicated himself was to outline and illustrate to the members of the National Assembly, how and in what manner he exercised the power vested in him to resolve the specific trade dispute. He could not feign ignorance of the dispute in the face of the abundance of evidence: letters to him from the affected Union; letters and public statements by concerned local and international organisations; letter from the Leader of the Opposition; letters to the media; and significantly, the PPP backed GAWU which felt compelled, “as a matter of principle and solidarity” to call on the Minister of Labour “to reconsider his previous and current indifference with respect to the issue” and for him to “shoulder his responsibility”.

The fact that the Minister could not identify a single step taken by him according to the law confirms his indictment for serious dereliction of duty and breach of the Labour laws. He ought to resign! The Minister and the Government are also charged with the failure to protect workers’ rights under the Constitution.

CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS

What are those constitutional rights?

Article 147 of our Constitution guarantees the right to Freedom of Assembly; association; to demonstrate peacefully; and to form trade unions for the protection of his or her interests. Article 147 (2) provides that “no person shall be hindered in his or her freedom to strike.” More significantly, Article 149 states that,

“no person shall be treated in a discriminatory manner by any person acting by virtue of any written law or in the performance of the functions of any public office or any public authority.”

Articles 149 also guarantees, “the right to work; participating through trade unions ;( and that the) State shall not deny any person equality before the law.”

It does not require any expertise in the Law to recognize that the constitutional rights of the workers at Kwakwani have been breached with the active participation of the PPP/C Administration.

DISCRIMINATION

The trade dispute in the Bauxite industry is not simply a dereliction of duty by the Minister but also highlights the breach of Article 149, which states that no person shall be treated in a discriminatory manner.

For example, a comparison can be made with the response by the Ministry of Labour and the Government to similar trade disputes between GAWU and their employer in the sugar industry. Recently, in the face of a serious strike by sugar workers in the entire East Berbice, almost the entire Cabinet rushed to the area to find an amicable solution. No one can be dissatisfied with the prompt response to the sugar workers cause. When the Government fails to respond in a similar manner in the bauxite industry, however, they cannot escape the conclusion that they are guilty of blatant discrimination, contrary to Article 149.

The recent behaviour of the Minister of Labour and the PPP/C Administration’s cannot be taken in isolation to previous acts of discrimination against Guyanese workers such as, the unilateral cessation of the check-off system for union dues from public servants for the Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU); the willful and malicious withholding of subventions approved by the Parliament for the Critchlow Labour College; and, the refusal of the PPP/C Administration to make any further allocations to facilitate workers education at that College. Such a dismal anti-workers record cannot inspire confidence that the incumbent Minister of Labour would ever impartially represent workers’ interest and ensure that the labour laws of Guyana are honoured. His actions over the past seven months shows the gross contempt by the Government and the Minister, in particular, for the workers of Guyana; contempt for the Parliament to which he is required to account, and, serious violations of the law and constitution of Guyana.

The trade dispute between GB&GWU and the RUAL owned BCGI is but the latest illustration of dereliction of duty by a Government Minister and discrimination practiced by the PPP/C Administration. The people of Guyana will ultimately be the final judges.

People’s National Congress Reform
Congress Place, Sophia
Georgetown, Guyana
Monday 7 June 2010