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I say without fear of contradiction, the three-week-old strike at the Linden Utility Service Coop Society Limited (LUSCSL) is another effort of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) to cut off the economic source of Africa Guyanese labour.
Even after all this time the Guyana Bauxite and General Workers Union (GB&GWU) and management met only twice and both times at the Union’s instigation. The government, who has primary responsibility for maintaining a stable and harmonious industrial environment, has opted not to act; a tactic it would never ever use for sugar workers.
Guyanese know too well sugar workers only have to come out with a placard or threaten strike action and the government is quick to act. The matter of LUSCSL is the highhanded behaviour by members of the imposed Interim Management Committee (IMC) in violating the workers’ rights and misusing the funds of the cooperative for personal enrichment. Chief Labour Officer (CLO) Dhaneshwar Deonarine has a duty under the law to intervene in this industrial dispute and seek to restore normalcy.
The Union is aware the CLO has not advised the new IMC chairwoman of what he brokered between the union and general manager. The new chairwoman met with workers on Thursday afternoon. During that engagement she spoke with a representative of the Union and advised she had not been briefed by the Labour Department. If the CLO has an interest in resolving the grievances, he would have briefed the new chairman immediately after she was appointed rather than operating as though normalcy exists.
The union and the company met under the chairmanship of the CLO when the union submitted its conditions for resumption. The general manager took the position that whatever has been hammered out he has to return to acting Chief Cooperative Development Officer (CCDO) Debbie Persaud or new IMC for directive to act.
The CLO’s accusation the Union is disingenuous in making the issue public by stating the facts suggests he is more interested in the situation escalating rather than seeking resolution under the law. It is important for the public to be apprised of the CLO’s discriminatory practices. Again, I say, were these workers ethnically different the situation would have been different.
Long established principles in the Labour Department on hearing a strike existed or an ultimate given by a union to a company setting a time for a strike, the department would intervene. The role of the Labour Department is to avoid and settle disputes, not to sit down and wait to be invited to conciliate. The CLO was informed by way of letter of the strike on the first day it occurred. There is no excuse on his part, three weeks into the strike the matter remains unsettled, unless that is the intent and he is taking political directives not upholding his duties by embracing time honoured principles.
The PPP has thrown down the gauntlet against a section of the Guyanese workforce. They are signalling this to all Guyanese except for GAWU and unions they considered friendly or aligned. Unions independent of the PPP must fight harder because industrial relation principles and practices will be sacrificed at the altar in the regime’s divisive march to fashion their ‘one Guyana.”
There are African leaders in the PPP, namely Prime Minister Mark Phillips and Labour Minister Joe Hamilton, among others. But they will remain silent or be put out there to defend this new economic attack against African Guyanese. Not one has the testicular fortitude to say stop the discriminatory treatment or count me out, lest it threatens their new cushy lifestyle. They prefer to see their own kneel rather than stand on their feet with dignity. The Constitution of Guyana, at Article 149, protects everyone from being discriminated against on the ground of race.
Even as these predictions are made it is not lost on me that they are equally silent or have given support for the withdrawal of the subventions to the International Decade for People of African Descent Assembly-Guyana (IDPADA-G), as they did earlier for the Critchlow Labour College. There are also outstanding labour issues with the public service unions, the teachers union, and the Bauxite Company Guyana Incorporated (BCGI) and GB&GWU and these African leaders are silent.
Letters are lying on both Hamilton and Deonarine’s desks outlying the outstanding grievances, including incorrect severance pay to BCGI workers. These letters were either tossed in the dustbin or catching dust on their desks. It matters not to the PPP that Guyana’s sovereignty is being threatened by foreign power, providing the leaders could derive personal gains. We witness these every day in their actions.
What all these organisations have in common is whereas IDPADA-G deals specifically with the principles adumbrated by the United Nations in observance of the International Decade of People of African descent, the economic attack on labour and its educational arm is not because of class but race, given African Guyanese dominate in these institutions.
The PPP cannot run from its record of ethnic discrimination. The evidence is there for all to see in every facet of society. Let me end by saying, having in their midst members of the group being discriminated against or having them kowtow or support the discriminatory behaviour will not fool those who value the upholding of universally acceptable principles and the right of each individual and group under the law.