Workers’ rights must be respected

Dear Editor,
The Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) is now left with no option other than to seek public pressure for the GPL/NICIL- owned Skeldon Energy Inc (SEI) to respect the rights of its workforce to enjoy union representation.
The GAWU had, in 2019, applied to represent the workers of the state-owned SEI. Following our application to the Trade Union Recognition and Certification Board (TURCB), the company refused to provide certain information which it is lawfully required to make available. The Union learnt that certain well-known personalities had sought to stanch the workers’ desire to be represented by GAWU. Nonetheless, the Union persevered and impressed upon the TURCB, and eventually the SEI supplied the relevant information, paving the way for the Union to be accorded a Certification of Recognition, dated February 14, 2019.
At that time, we had felt we had left the worst behind, and the Union had provided for the SEI’s consideration a draft Recognition and Avoidance and Settlement of Disputes Agreement for discussion. The agreement was intended to define the parameters of the relationship between the GAWU and the SEI.
On several occasions, our attempts to engage the SEI were resisted. Our attempts to seek the intervention of the TURCB were stalemated after the Board ceased to function following the then Chairperson’s illness. Subsequently, the Board’s life expired. Following the new Government’s ascension to office and the appointment of a new TURCB headed by former Labour Minister Dr NK Gopaul, the GAWU pursued the issue.
To its credit, the TURCB intervened and unambiguously told the SEI that it must engage GAWU. After some back and forth between SEI and the TURCB, discussions between the GAWU and SEI commenced in January of this year. Through our discussions, the Union and the Company have been able to iron out most of the clauses in the agreement.
Currently, one clause remains unresolved. That concerns the deduction of union dues from workers’ wages/salaries.
The SEI is inexplicably maintaining that the Union must re-enroll the workers annually. This is a departure from a longstanding practice, wherein once a worker authorises deductions from his/her wages/salary, such deductions continue perpetually once that worker remains in the employ of the company or within the bargaining unit. The Union believes the SEI’s demand defies commonsense, and is an effort to dissuade workers from joining the GAWU. The Union has approached the TURCB once again for its assistance. Attempts by the TURCB Secretary to resolve the matter have been unsuccessful, as the management continues to insist on its strange position.

More recently, the TURCB wrote the Chairman of the SEI Board of Directors. We are unaware whether any response has been forthcoming. On its own, the GAWU wrote Prime Minister Mark Phillips, who has responsibility for the electricity sector. The Prime Minister has informed GAWU that he referred the Union’s correspondence to the Chairman of GPL, which is the majority shareholder. It is understood that the GPL Board has decided that the SEI must respect the workers’ rights and long-standing practices. Despite this decision, at this point in time, the SEI, by its action or inaction, continues to deny the workers their right to join the Union of their choice. It is disheartening to recognise such anti-worker and anti-Union behaviour, and it appears that the Management, apart from ignoring the laws and long-standing precedents, has also seemingly chosen to ignore decisions of those who offer guidance and exert control.

The GAWU, nonetheless, remains hopeful that better sense would prevail and the SEI would drop its seemingly cynical demand, paving the way for the agreement to be signed. Notwithstanding the absence of an agreement, the Union remains the legally certified bargaining agent, and it appears that our attempts to have good relations with the SEI is not being met with similar sincerity by the company.

Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU)