The National Assembly on Thursday unanimously passed an Alliance For Change (AFC)-sponsored motion for the restoration of government’s subvention to the Critchlow Labour College (CLC) only after that opposition party agreed to an amendment to provide for broad-based trade union representation on the board of that institution.
The AFC’s Trevor Williams agreed to the amendment after Peoples Progressive Party Civic (PPPC) back bencher, Manzoor Nadir had earlier challenged him to amend his motion to provide for the board to include four members from the Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC) and four from the breakaway Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Guyana (FITUG).
A Partnership for National Unity’s (APNU) front-bencher, Dr. Rupert Roopnaraine signaled that he was in favour of wide union representation on CLC’s Board of Directord. “The fact is that the without the subvention it only penalises the children of the poor and pauperises the entire trade union movement,” he said.
However, government still insisted that the subvention to the Critchlow Labour College (CLC) would not be restored unless there is accountability.
“We are not penalising the college. We would like to give some form of subvention to workers education but we would like to see labour put its house in order,” Labour Minister, Dr. Nankishore Gopaul told the House in response to a motion by Alliance For Change’s (AFC) Trevor Williams for the restoration of the subvention.
The GUY$32 million subvention was withdrawn in the mid 2000s.
Gopaul cited the need for proper record keeping and representation on thee Board of Directors by persons coming from larger and more representative unions than those with few members. The minister recalled that since 1998 CLC had failed to submit returns to the Deeds Registry and audited statements have not been available for perusal by the public and constituent organisations sicen 2005 and 2007.
He observed that the Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU) runs a University of Guyana accredited programme while the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) has a programme accredited to the University of the West Indies (UWI).
Roopnaraine urged that the CLC be provided with the assistance as a “vehicle for bringing about trade union unity”. The CLC is part of the Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC) which was split in 1999 with several large government-friendly unions regrouping under the banner of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Guyana (FITUG).
Williams, in kicking off debate on the motion, made a stirring appeal for the subvention to be restored by arguing that the Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committtee could be used to probe whether public monies were being properly spent and accounted for. “That is not enough reason. There are mechanisms that you put in place- watchdog and security measures-to ensure that money is spent how it is supposed to spent,” he said.
The AFC lawmaker appealed for the inssititution to be infused with the subvention to help revive the institution and help youths lead meaningful lives. “The situtaion requires today to expnad a model to rein in desperate and idle youths by not being meaningfully involved,” he said.
AFC front-bencher Moses Nagamootoo endorsed calls on both sides of the House for the reunification of FITUG and GTUC and for both institutions to share equally eight directors on CLC’s Board. Nagamootoo said that could be the first step towards agreeing to teach a variety of labour subjects so that youths can be imbued with the history of struggle by Guyanese workers.
APNU’s Basil Williams questioned the importance of equitably sharing the number of directors between the two union confederations in light of the governmment’s unrelenting attack on the GTUC and assertion of FITUG. “The students of Critchlow Labour College are merely collateral damage,” he added.
Williams, arguing that CLC “is not any ordinary institution” that has been the product of anti-colonial struggle, suggested that a special select committee be established to examine the issue of the subvention to that institution. “We need to have all sides to sit down and let’s talk and invite them to come and submit memoranda,” he said.
In the end, APNU voted along with AFC and the governing Peoples Progressive Party Civic (PPPC) in favour of the amendment for equitable representation by the two labour union bodies.