Labour Department “a toothless watchdog” – GAWU

DTL workers’ dismissal

In light of the October 2016 sacking of 11 Demerara Timbers Limited (DTL) workers who were reportedly dismissed for protesting at their employer’s head office, the Social Protection Ministry’s Labour Department has come in for stinging criticism from the workers’ representative union.
In its end of year statement issued late last week, the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) described the Department of Labour as a “toothless watchdog” which is “unable” to safeguard the right of the Guyanese working class. Junior Minister of Social Protection Keith Scott holds the Labour portfolio.
“It’s the Ministry whose final responsibility lies with the Minister,” General Secretary of GAWU Seepaul Narine told Guyana Times on Monday.
GAWU also registered its disdain for the company’s “anti-worker” and “anti-union” actions over the dismissals.
“The decision by the foreign-owned Company…sets a nasty precedent in our country and runs contrary to established norms, long-standing principles and conventions as well as the laws and constitution of Guyana,” GAWU noted.
The union regarded the workers’ dismissal as a “clear attempt to intimidate the workers”, by the use of “extra-legal measures” to deny workers their pay increases.
Giving an update on the plight of some 72 workers who were placed on a retrenchment list, GAWU General Secretary on Monday also revealed that “more than 20” workers have been let go. In an interview with Guyana Times, Narine disclosed that DTL is yet to indicate the status of the other workers.
Reports received by this publication had indicated that some 72 workers were on a retrenchment list, which would be completed by December, however the General Secretary indicated that even the Labour Department had found some difficulty in garnering updates on the status of the workers.
“The Ministry was trying to get them (DTL) to give an update but they were not listening to the ministry. Its more than 20 workers that were retrenched,” Narine told this publication Monday.
Guyana Times understands that the company closed operations at the end of the holiday season and will restart operations next Monday (January 9). It is expected that at this point, the status of workers’ employment will be disclosed.  It was in late October that it was announced that DTL was scaling down operations in Guyana.
Meanwhile, Narine also outlined plans for advocacy of workers’ rights this year, noting Minister Scott indicated willingness for more engagement with the relevant unions.

Minister with responsibility for Labour, Keith Scott
Minister with responsibility for Labour, Keith Scott
GAWU General Secretary, Seepaul Narine
GAWU General Secretary, Seepaul Narine

“He said that he wants to engage the trade unions and that he is hoping to have dialogue so we said we are willing to meet with him. There a number of important issues we need to talk about,” the GAWU official pointed out.
Negotiations between the Union and the company reached a stalemate on November 17, 2015 after the DTL did not approve any pay raise, but offered a Christmas bonus of $5000 to each worker that year. The DTL had informed that its financial state precluded it from offering a pay raise. Following the impasse, the dispute was next subjected to conciliatory services by the Social Protection Ministry’s Labour Department.
On October 3,  last year, workers picketed DTL’s Headquarters in Kingston, Georgetown and eleven  were dismissed. Guyana Times was told later that month that the DTL would supposedly pay the workers their “full benefits”. However, GAWU had maintained that since the 2015 pay rise dispute was still under the attention of the Social Protection Ministry’s Labour Department, the matter should have been settled before any workers are laid off.
At that time, GAWU reminded that the timber company was unjust to terminate workers for taking industrial action over an ongoing pay raise dispute, citing Section Eight of the Termination of Employment and Severance Pay Act.
In a statement released back in October, GAWU had condemned the move DTL had taken and had even pointed out that those dismissals were the first time in Guyana’s history that a private or public entity had taken such an action despite the country’s labour laws, which prohibit workplaces from dismissing workers for taking part in industrial action.