Labour Day: Youths are future of Trade Unionism in Guyana – GAWU’s Poorandat Narine

Trade Unionist and Assistant General Secretary of GAWU, Poorandat Narine
Trade Unionist and Assistant General Secretary of GAWU, Poorandat Narine

By Rupa Seenaraine

Centring his objective on working for the people, Poorandat Narine is one of the young trade unionists in Guyana who believes that youngsters are essential in continuing the collective voice for the working class Guyanese.

Narine is the newly-elected Assistant General Secretary at the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers’ Union (GAWU), who in an interview with Guyana Times underscored the importance of trade unionism in protecting workers’ rights.
The 32-year-old spent his early days in Mon Repos, East Coast Demerara (ECD), and attended the Mon Repos Primary School. He secured a place at the St Roses High School and after graduating, he studied at the Guyana School of Agriculture (GSA) where he pursued a diploma.

Narine gained employment with the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) – a job which he held for over a decade until the closure of the sugar estates. Now, he is also the Treasurer of GAWU, a Director on the National Agriculture and Research Extension Institute (NAREI) Board and an Executive Member of the International Union of Food (Caribbean).

For him, his interest in trade unionism stemmed from his tenure at the Corporation, where he became a representative for field foremen and worked up the ladder thereafter.

“It dates back to my tenure in GuySuCo. Upon graduating GSA, I went into GuySuCo as a field foreman and the GAWU has representation [at] all levels. At that level, I was nominated to be the representative of the field foremen there and through that local region, I became the Branch Secretary and then the Chairman of the branch.”

Narine would continue advocating for workers’ rights to be upheld and sharpened his skills through various training and resources that were provided by the Union. Then when the sugar estates closed in late 2016, he was then approached by then President of GAWU, the late Komal Chand to join the Union as an organising officer.

For him, Trade Unions are able to strike better working conditions by using the collective voice of workers. In some cases, the collective labour agreement with employers is superior than what is prescribed in the law – a positive indication of its importance.

“In advocating policies, rights of workers and better conditions, those are where Trade Union work stand. It is very important, not only in Guyana but across the world because if you go collectively, you have that advantage of speaking with one voice. It gives strong meaning to united we stand, divided we fall. Some of the things in the collective agreement with employers are stronger than what is recommended in the law. There’s a benefit for our members also to be with the Union,” the trade unionist explained.

Diving into his responsibilities, Narine shared that while some disputes are easily settled, some require different input from the Union in getting negotiations afloat and to the benefit of workers.

Poorandat (R) with GAWU President Seepaul Narine

Presently, he said the input of younger people is essential in keeping the Unions alive. Moreover, the younger generation resonates easier with their fellow colleagues and identify issues at hand. Of course, a person would be required to join the Union as a member if they desire a role in Guyana’s Trade Union community.

“Young people should be involved because the current leadership won’t be there forever. You need that input of young people currently…For young people to come on board, you have to join the Union, take part in the activities, access our local resources and educational packages. Being a young worker, I’m able to relate to young people better. I’m not saying that the older folks cannot relate but we see at a better level, the problems and the solutions.”

GAWU has been placing its attention on securing young persons to build its membership base and for continued representation of workers across the country. Presently, the Union has almost 8000 members – the largest in the country.

“To know their rights, what is afforded to them, trade unionism is the way to go. No employer in this day and age would give you everything that you want. You have to go with a collective voice. In the operation of GAWU, there are more young people on board currently that have joined the Executive and the General Council. We’re trying to attract them and soon we’re trying to roll out a programme where we try to attract young workers to come on board. We need them and they need us,” Narine highlighted.

Going forward, he acknowledged that there is room for improvement given employees work diligently alongside their respective Union. Better collaboration between other Unions is also on the agenda.

“There are a lot of things that we can put in place because, in 2019, we celebrated 100 years of trade unionism in Guyana. We can do better. The employees need to work properly with us. We need to increase our membership to make that collective voice and the sister trade unions need to work together to better the working conditions of people. Put the pettiness aside and work for the people. Trade Unions are set up for the people by the people.”