Guyana Trades Union Congress
April 20, 2012
Never before has this country witnessed such lunacy as transpired Wednesday with the ministers of government picketing exercise. For the government, through its Minister of Finance, to first say that they are ready to talk with the Opposition on the budgetary allocations, then subsequently choose to engage in acts of mis-information about the opposition’s position on a matter, to coerce workers to join them in their protest, speaks to a level of recklessness that gives rise to the view the government is unconcerned about the rights and public safety of the citizens. Using workers to front a picketing exercise geared towards objectives not in keeping with their rights and continuing to pit contract workers against tenured workers, is another aspect of the never ending political shenanigans of divide and rule to plunder and exploit.
Were the contract workers presented with the actual parliamentary presentation of AFC MP, Khemraj Ramjattan, they would realise that said presentation was in their interest and posed a threat to the government continued abuse of them and the state’s resources. The AFC’s position was not about cutting employment in the Public Service but rather satisfying the authorised strength in the Service based on the required job classifications, the organisations structure, and done consistent with the Public Service Rules and the Laws. The presentation demanded all employees working in the public sector be subject to the same rules of employment, which will guarantee tenure and a pension on retirement.
This is a clear case where the right to accurate information was suppressed to facilitate a party’s political agenda and the use of the State’s resources to coerce workers to move from their place of work to engage in a misleading exercise. In fact, what transpired was wrong and falls within the purview of the ILO Convention on Forced Labour. A moment that requires leadership from the Executive was turned into a coerced exercise where workers were being led by government ministers based on falsification, to picket Parliament against the Opposition as the Opposition sits in Parliament to continue deliberation on the People’s business. The transportation of persons from their workplaces, down the streets, having them repeat messages dictated to them and prescribing how long they stay in the boiling mid-afternoon sun, against their free will, makes this government culpable of Trafficking in Persons. According to this convention, Trafficking in Persons is modern-day slavery, involving victims, who among other things, are forced, or coerced into labour exploitation, which violate their human rights, such as freedom of movement and association, the right to accurate information and employment security.
The business of this nation and the wellbeing of the people are much too serious for the government to be engaged in these acts of violations and lunacy. To the workers, Labour says, we were present in Parliament and listened to Ramjattan’s presentation. Workers are urged to request a copy of this presentation, and the AFC is urged to make same available via various media, so persons can have the benefit of first hand information that would lead to an informed and independent opinion, and if a grievance exist measures put in place to resolve same.
This government has created a bureaucracy outside of the Public Service to do the work of the Public Service, and in so doing they have created two difference conditions of employment to do the same job, which pit workers against workers, undermine the quality of service the public deserves and trample the rights of those employed in this environment. Labour supports the position that workers’ tenure, consistent with the Public Service Rules be honoured and respected, and in having the government lead the way in so doing. For if the government fails to uphold these tenets then they give licence to other employers to disrespect the workers’ rights and the rule of law.
The government’s action on Wednesday was not about the workers. This was about them exploiting the absence of accurate information to coerce workers to participate in an exercise to reject an opinion that argued for the improvement of their conditions of work. In fact given what the AFC had presented in parliament, and the government’s reaction through protest with the coerced presence of workers, gave the appearance of agreement to the violation of workers’ rights to function in an atmosphere of security and respect.
Labour was intrigued with Ambassador Elizabeth Harper’s presence on the picket line and her reported statements. Labour views this presence and outspokenness as a symbol of resistance to the government continued violation of workers. For the violations in the Foreign Service are well known and recently highlighted by Head of the Presidential Secretariat Roger Luncheon, who under oath in Court, admitted that no African was qualified to be ambassador. This ministry has a track record for disregarding the right to work, discriminating against workers on the ground of race, and violating the Public Service Rules. Recall is made of Dr. Cedric Grant and Jacqueline Hamer who resorted to the High Court to seek recourse for being denied their remuneration, the single-minded targeting of African Heads of Mission, and the supersession of Foreign Service Officers Arnon Adams and Hamer in violation of the Public Service Rules, to name a few. Given the discriminatory practices in the Foreign Service over the last 20 years the ambassador is commended for adding her voice in demanding an end to discrimination, albeit done in a forced environment.
The GTUC is also encouraged by the messages demanding respect for the fundamental right to work. It should also be said the security of a pension is also constitutionally guaranteed and the government must give respect to this for contract workers since they ensure theirs is protected after 10 years of parliamentary service. As Labour notes the swiftness of the government in its mobilization effort, albeit reckless and tainted with acts of human trafficking, it is hope this fervour will go towards doing the right thing, which includes working with the opposition to deliver a budget the people can tolerate. To the workers who picketed, the government violation of your rights should not be tolerated and you are urged to bring an end to this disrespect by arming yourselves with accurate information even as you extend similar service to the public.