Refusal by APNU/AFC Govt to reinstate Labour Ministry will not be forgotten- Trade Unions

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In light of Government using its majority in Parliament last week to vote against the re-establishment of a Labour Ministry, the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Guyana (FITUG) on Tuesday said that “rather than advancing any convincing arguments for its stance, the Administration tangentially invoked several red herrings and did not, from our point of view, address the substance of the matter.”

FITUG’s President Carvil Duncan

FITUG in statement said it was “most upset and disturbed by the seeming belligerent attitude shown by the APNU/AFC Government’s disapproval of a motion to have reinstated a Ministry of Labour,” they said.

Last week, the motion was tabled by the Parliamentary Opposition (People’s Progressive Party) following a call that was reiterated by the trade union movement at the May Day 2018 rally.

“It is a call which the Guyanese workers, through their representative organisations, have been making over the last three years but was largely ignored despite the several credible rationales provided for going in the direction that the motion proposed” said FITUG.

Minister within the Social Protection Ministry, Keith Scott

The Union said that they had expectations that on this occasion, in spite of previous expressed views, and given the nature of the issue, the Coalition Government “would have soberly assessed and given support to the motion.” That expectation was dashed, however, as shown by the contributions from the Government side and, of course, ultimately its vote in the House… Maybe this course was chosen as the Coalition Government, we believe, could not defend its indefensible position in not having a Labour Ministry.”

Moreover, FITUG noted that the fact that the Minister -who holds the responsibility for Labour- did not contribute to the debate in the National Assembly, says a great deal.

“The outcome, though, a major disappointment for the nation’s workers only served to confirm the Federation’s publicly expressed view regarding the Administration’s anti-working-class nature,” the entity said noting that on too many occasions, the Coalition’s disregard for many of the commitments they made to workers during their 2015 elections campaign have been placed in the spotlight.

“Time-honoured and long-standing practices even international conventions and our country’s laws have simply been ignored by the present-day Government. Moreover, one cannot ignore the increased cost-of-living burdens workers are now made to bear and which further illustrate the Administration’s unsympathetic view to the working-peoples plight. This latest act against the workers of Guyana is just another glaring example of the Coalition’s scant concern of the workers interest.”

Nevertheless, they stated that even in spite of the Administration’s intransigence, FITUG firmly upholds and reiterates its position that a Ministry of Labour is a necessary and required institution.

Opposition Member of Parliament (MP) Gillian Burton-Persaud

On Thursday last, the Opposition put up a fierce debate in Parliament, listing several vital reasons for the Labour Ministry to be re-instated.

Former trade unionist and Opposition Member of Parliament (MP) Gillian Burton-Persaud opened the debate with solid arguments, referring to cases where the Government has shown less than favourable treatment to workers and their unions since its assumption to office.

The MP established that having a Labour Ministry in place is nothing extraordinary, as there have been these ministries created by past Governments before to address industrial relations issues.

She believes that if the Government is really serious about addressing workers’ issues, then a Labour Ministry should be re-established.

Burton-Persaud pointed out that not only did the Government remove the Ministry and replace it with a Department, but a Junior Minister of Government in Minister Keith Scott has been appointed to head the Labour Department.

“Such a development could be seen as a slap in the face of trade union leaders and the workers of Guyana, including all of us here in this honorable house. If we pay attention to, or understand the functions of, labour, we (would) learn to appreciate its major importance in any society,” she added.

She also claimed this development has also eroded the legacy of Hubert Nathaniel Critchlow, and explained that labour always stood separate and apart from other ministries.

Minister of Social Protection Amna Ally under whose ministry the Department of Labour resides, had argued in the National Assembly that the need for the Labour Ministry was unnecessary since the functions are being adequately performed.

General Secretary of GTUC, Lincoln Lewis

The call for the re-establishment of a Labour Ministry was supported by General Secretary of the Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU), Lincoln Lewis. He had requested of Burton-Persaud and her party to table a motion in the National Assembly seeking re-establishment of the Ministry.

Outlining his disbelief at the move that saw the Government side of the House vote against the re-establishment of a Labour Ministry by 33 to 25, Lewis in a letter posited, among other things that “The working class is in for rougher times and we have to be prepared to band our bellies and shoulder on, for there is nothing worse than having to live in an environment where ignorance and intolerance override. Workers have power and exercise this power in various forms, including at the ballot box. We shall not forget 20th July 2018.”

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