GAWU puts “public pressure” on Skeldon Energy Inc. over unionisation

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The Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) is not backing down in its row with the GPL/NICIL-owned Skeldon Energy Inc (SEI) over the unionisation of SEI employees.

In a press release from GAWU on Wednesday, the union said ”it is now left with no other option than to seek public pressure for SEI to respect the rights of its workforce to enjoy union representation”.

According to the GAWU, in 2019 it had applied to represent the workers of the state-owned SEI.

The union further alleges that “following our application to the Trade Union Recognition and Certification Board (TURCB), the company refused to provide certain information that it is lawfully required to make available. The Union learnt that certain well-known personalities had sought to staunch 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, GAWU said it had felt the union had put the worse behind and provided for the SEI’s consideration a draft Recognition and Avoidance and Settlement of Disputes agreement for discussion.

Below is the remainder of the GAWU press release:

The agreement was intended to set out the parameters of the relationship between the GAWU and the SEI. On several occasions, our attempts to engage the SEI was resisted. Our attempts to seek the intervention of the TURCB was 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 N.K. 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, 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 reenroll the workers annually.

This is a departure from a long-standing practice where once a worker authorizes 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 seems to be 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 has been unsuccessful as the management continues to insist on its strange position. More recently, the TURCB had written the Chairman of the SEI Board of Directors.

We are unaware whether any response was forthcoming. On its own, the GAWU wrote Prime Minister Mark Phillips who is charged with responsibility for the electricity sector. The Prime Minister informed GAWU that he had referred the Union’s correspondence to the Chairman of GPL which is the majority shareholder.

It is understood that the GPL Board had 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 right to join the Union of their choice.

It is disheartening to recognize such anti-worker and anti-Union behaviour and it appears 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 can prevail and the SEI can drop its seeming 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 our attempts to have good relations with the SEI is not met with similar sincerity by the company.

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