Statement from the Guyana Agricultural and General Works Union (GAWU) Oil and Gas branch
The GAWU’s Oil and Gas branch, in recent weeks, has been in contact with its fraternal union the Oil Workers Trade Union (OWTU) of Trinidad and Tobago. The OWTU is recognised as one of the foremost unions in our Caribbean neighbour and over the years has grown to speak on behalf of workers in that country’s oil and gas sector removing exploitative practices as it brought improved working conditions and benefits to its membership. The GAWU and the OWTU relations date back several decades and has been grounded in the principles of worker solidarity and both unions commitment to uplifting the working-class in our respective countries.
Just a few weeks ago, the GAWU drew to the public’s attention that workers in the oil and gas sector locally were earning pay rates equivalent to the national minimum wage. We bemoaned the situation pointing out that presently the lowest earning wage in the public sector was $403 per hour as against $255 per hour in the oil sector. We pointed out too those workers were in receipt of allowances which had no scientific reasoning and could be withdrawn at any time. The practice we surmised was an attempt to subjugate workers. We also have spoken too about the absence of overtime payments to certain workers. We pointed out that at one enterprise workers were entitled to payment for 4,000 hours per annum but receiving less than 3,000 hours pay. This we considered highway robbery and a clearly exploitative practice to cheat the workers out of their due reward.
Recent engagements between our two unions have revealed the stark disparities in rates-of-pay and conditions-of-work between Guyanese and unionised Trinidadian workers in the sector. For instance, in nearly all occupations, Trinidadian unionized workers obtained vastly superior pay rates. For instance, we noted jobs such as rigmen, electricians, operators, mechanics, and other artisans receiving ten (10) times more pay than their Guyanese counterparts. For some other jobs, the disparity was even greater. Additionally, the OWTU informed us apart from pay, workers in the sector enjoy several allowances such as On Call Duty, Overtime, Subsistence Allowance, Overtime Meal Allowance, Disturbance Allowance, Travelling Allowance, Offshore Allowance, Working Out of Base, Travelling Time , Re-Scheduling of Established Working Day, among others, Additionally, our Caribbean counterparts benefit from Deferred Compensation Plan, Savings Allowance, Vacation Travel Grant Plan, Housing Aid Plan, Pension Plan, Employees Medical Plan, and Employees Benefit Plan. It demonstrates that for workers to get what they rightly deserve they need to be organized.
For the GAWU, the information was quite revealing. In our conversations with the OWTU, we recognised that several of the benefits negotiated by that Union has been won by GAWU where our Union enjoys bargaining rights. We believe that in a sector which is responsible for a significant economic contribution, the workers who produce its wealth must be properly compensated for their efforts rather than having the real wealth creamed off at the top. The GAWU, for the record, is not averse to enterprises in the sector. We wish to see those enterprises succeed and become profitable. We nonetheless believe that the success of an enterprise cannot be delinked from its workers whose hard work and efforts are sources of the success.
Our recent work in educating workers in the sector of their rights has also been quite revealing. In many enterprises, workers have expressed a strong willingness to become organized. Many have shared the view that being organized will allow them to be treated in a fairer and dignified manner. Though workers recognise that reality, they also expressed apprehensions. They have told the GAWU that their employers have forbidden them from being unionized. They shared that even a hint of discontent among the workforce sees workers who speak up being sent home. This they held was intent on sending an unequivocal message to the larger workforce. Such actions are highly detestable and are a fundamental violation of workers’ rights.
In recent weeks, we have been studying the corporate social responsibility (CSR) policies of several foreign enterprises operating in the sector. Those policies which speak to a broad range of human rights, environmental, financial proprieties, among other things have largely endorsed the ILO’s fundamental principles and rights at work. A chief principle regards the freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. These principles have also been translated into freedoms enshrined in the Constitution of Guyana as well as the Trade Union Recognition Act.
In the coming weeks, the GAWU and the OWTU will seek to further our cooperation as we jointly seek to strengthen the hand of the Guyanese workers in the oil and gas sector. We welcome the support of the OWTU and together with the GAWU seek to bring an end to the exploitative practices that Guyanese workers confront in the sector.