Minister Hamilton’s remarks disappoints GAWU- says it “may be seen as anti-worker”

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The comments made by the Minister of Labour, Joseph Hamilton about trade unions during his appearance on Globespan on March 22, 2022 did not sit well with the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers’ Union (GAWU).

In a lengthy press release on Wednesday, GAWU expressed their disappointment in the stance taken by their subject Minister, even though it was noted that Minister Hamilton did not attribute his sentiments to any particular union/s. For backdrop, Minister Hamilton had opined that some unions were not providing adequate representation to their membership and also criticized their leadership.

GAW argued that the Minister’s comment “does not help to enhance his image among the thousands of unionized workers in Guyana. Moreover, it may have well demonstrated an anti-worker bias by the
Minister, though we do not believe this was his intention…The Minister’s remarks may be seen as anti-worker. This is not helpful given his role where he is expected to balance workers and employers’ issues. “

However, GAWU noted that a few moments later the Minister said under his tenure twenty-two (22) agreements were signed between Unions and various workplaces. “This he said was greater than what
was achieved in the period of the Coalition Administration. It, therefore,
begs the question if unions are signing more agreements, then how aren’t
they providing sufficient representation? Clearly there is an obvious
disconnect in the logic. We nonetheless hold that improvements in all
organisations, including the Ministry of Labour, should be an ongoing
process.” The statement read.

“The Minister also said no union has ever spoken to him about any other
matter besides improvements in workers pay.” According to GAWU, they have been lobbying and engaging the Minister on several matters such as Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) and
need for strengthening regulations, the freedom of association, equality in
the workplace, collective bargaining just to name a few. “Ironically, the
GAWU has thus far not engaged the Minister and his Ministry on pay increase
issues except for the improvement of the National Minimum Wage. Maybe
Minister Hamilton, given his busy schedule, does not recall those
interactions.” The Union stated. In the press release, GAW committed to
fight for workers to “benefit from the improvement their
enterprises record.”

Touching on another issue, GAWU stated “Minister Hamilton said unions don’t speak about OSH and he urged that they do. We agree that OSH is important. In that vein, the GAWU has collaborated
with the Ministry over the years in the conduct of OSH seminars and other
activities in support of this workplace issue. However, we urge the Minister
to utilize the Ministry’s statistical department, which he touted, to
contrast OSH incidents between organized and unorganized workplaces. The
data would tend to indicate that OSH issues are more prevalent in the latter
rather than the former. There is good reason for this. Unions and employers
have been able to collaborate to meaningfully address this issue. Though
again, we believe, there must be an ongoing assessment to identify and
mitigate risks. Our Union in just the last few days has been working with
employers in several enterprises to renew the mandates of joint workplace
OSH committees as outlined by the Act apart from other OSH issues. In
contrast, such features are absent in many unorganized workplaces. In recent
times, GAWU has had cause to write the Ministry regarding several OSH issues
that came to its attention at unorganized workplaces.”

They continued “The Minister charged that unions were stuck in a bygone era. He said workers
were more willing now-a-days to enter contractual employment as opposed to
permanent employment. He articulated Unions advocated the latter. He
justified contract employment by saying that workers would receive gratuity
bi-annually allowing them to finance important acquisitions such as a home
or a vehicle. We are conscious that many workers have productively utilized
their gratuity to them and their family’s benefit. However, outside of the
State sector is the Minister aware of how many workers receive gratuity? Our
own information, though not complete, indicates that workers seldom receive
gratuity or any superannuation benefits. If they have permanent employment,
they may have pension benefits which they would receive should they leave
their jobs. We hasten to wonder whether the Minister is aware of the many
workers who are denied their lawful terminal benefits on the attainment of
pension. We have met several such workers who we had to direct to the
Ministry given the refusal of employers to engage our union as they claim
they do not have any legal obligation to address GAWU. Even in instances where employees receive gratuity it means besides NIS, they have no other retirement benefit. Does the Minister believe that the
NIS benefits, though important, are sufficient to meet expenses of
pensioners? Will it meet greater cost of health care at an advanced age? Or
able to surmount rising living costs? Certainly, if NIS was sufficient, then
many retired workers would not be at work or highly dependent on the State
for many services. Additionally, as the Minister would know, contract
employment goes against the grain of the International Labour Organization
(ILO) Decent Work Agenda which, among other things, emphasizes security of
tenure. Contract employees, at times, could have the proverbial Sword of
Damocles hanging over their heads. Should workers live in fear that their
contract may not be renewed annually?”

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