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The industrial environment in Guyana does not work for all workers. This is not a healthy industrial climate and will affect the performance of workers in the affected agencies, private and public. Minister of Labour Joe Hamilton has been very vocal in insisting Labour Laws must be respected, workers’ right to join and union be upheld, and this goes for all. Repeatedly the Minister has made known that employers will have to respect workers’ rights. These are encouraging words to the ears of workers. Workers would like to believe the Minister is both serious and will take a zero tolerance approach to protecting their rights if employers do not comply with the Labour Laws.
The Ministry of Labour is the enforcing state agency for the industrial relations environment. It is reasonable to assume, given the importance of workers to the economy and development, the Ministry would be vigilant in minimising any disruption to a stable environment. An unstable working environment affects morale, production and the bottom line. Labour is a partner, a vital if not the most important resource in any business, state or privately run. Workers and employers share a symbiotic relationship. They need each other. Recognition of the symbiotic relationship will cause both sides to appreciate stability is critical to their performance, achievements and goals.
Industrial dispute is expected because of competing interests, priorities and values of the employer and employees. Where these are recognised the importance of a Ministry of Labour would be valued. It is hoped the Ministry is taking note that all is not well between workers and their employers, including the government. This suggests therefore the Ministry has to work and appears to be working in the interest of all workers, regardless of who are their employers.
It is not lost on Guyanese, home and abroad, the existing disparity in treatment of workers. It is not lost on Guyanese workers in the teaching and public sector, which include the nurses are made to feel that their welfare is not important to the Ministry. This is not fair, just or right. Guyanese are aware whenever there is a dispute in the Guyana Sugar Corporation there is swift movement to seek settlement. Guyanese are aware the recent wage/salary dispute in the Guyana Power and Light was settled almost immediately. There is a clear pattern.
The pattern is showing workers that are represented by trade unions that have association with the government are inclined to receive attention. The workers represented by trade unions independent of the government have to struggle harder to get their disputes settled. This has been the case for bauxite workers in the Bauxite Company Guyana Incorporated who are represented by the Guyana Bauxite & General Workers Union (GB&GWU); the Linden nurses and nurses throughout Guyana who are represented by the Guyana Public Service Union; the teachers who are represented by the Guyana Teachers Union; and now the taxi drivers of Cyril Taxi who are represented by the GB&GWU. The division in treatment is not only stark but also unhealthy.
The division also contradicts President Irfaan Ali’s “One Guyana” message if he meant all Guyana. Guyanese would want to believe the President means all, regardless of class, race, creed, where people work, and which trade union represents them. United we stand. Divided we fall. A divided Guyana does no one any good. Outstanding industrial disputes should be settled. No worker should feel the Labour Laws only work for some, not for all. We are One People, One Nation and One Destiny. The Ministry of Labour is being urged to ensure there is a stable industrial environment for all workers in Guyana.