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Prime Minister defends absence of Labour Ministry under new government

(Left to Right) GTUC General Secretary Lincoln Lewis, Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo, Minister of Social Protection Volda Lawrence, Minister within the Ministry of Social Protection Simona Broomes, FITUG President Carvil Duncan and GAWU’s Deputy Ashin Singh. (GINA photo)

by Zena Henry

Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo has defended government’s decision to incorporate the affairs of the country’s labour sector within the Ministry of Social Protection after the administration came in for stiff criticism by trade unionists.

“When you protect labour, you protect the society, you protect the people.” He said that government has sought to umbrella all that must be protected.

We have decided, as the United Nations is moving in that direction, to have a ministry of social protection so this ministry can protect our children who are being abused, our women who are being abused and exploited and trafficked,” he said.

General Secretary of the Guyana Trade Union Congress (GTUC), Lincoln Lewis on Tuesday June 16, expressed discontent that there had not been a separate ministry, as in the past, to represent the affairs of working people.

In his address at the Enmore martyrs wreath laying ceremony, East Coast Demerara Lewis pointed out that Guyana is the only Caribbean country without the designated office.  He charged that as representatives of workers, “The trade union is accordingly required to be involved in the management and decision-making processes of this nation, partner with government and other socioeconomic organisations through sustained and disciplined endeavours to achieve the highest possible levels of production and productivity and to develop the economy.”

He insisted that the umbrella body will not abrogate their responsibility. “We shall continue to take our place at the nation’s table.”

Lewis reminded that it was the pursuit of creating a just society by sugar workers that included the right to self-determination through joining a trade union of choice that saw the workers’ involvement through their organisation in management and decision-making on matters that impact their wellbeing.

He said, “1948 was the period when the trade union was the sole vanguard movement representing the masses’ desire for change in the political system in this country. In fact, there was no mass-based political party and the trade union carried the fight for workers and citizens to be treated justly by the employer and the Crown. This 20thcentury struggle which began in 1905 was led by Hubert Nathaniel Critchlow. Notably, the 1948 incident energised the establishment of the Political Affairs Committee in 1949 and in 1950 the People’s Progressive Party, Guyana’s first mass-based political party.” He urged to remember the role the labour movement in advancing the struggles for equal rights and justice.

Minister Nagamootoo in addressing Lewis’ concern quipped that “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” He said that labour is an important part of social protection.

“In the same way the ministry of social protection is there to protect our working people.” He said that government is committing to a partnership among the business community, the labour community, and the State. “The government will work together with these important sectors in a partnership because we want to ensure cooperating to build this new Guyana where we want national unity to be our goal.”

Lewis had returned to the Enmore Martyrs wreath laying ceremony after a 13-year absence. Speaking to Demerara Waves, Wednesday 17, Lewis said he wished to foster good relations with the new government, but was already disappointed that there is no labour ministry. He said he stopped going to the wreath laying ceremony under the former People’s Progressive Party (PPP) government since the involvement of certain unions in the ceremony was “blatantly denied.”

The PPPC administration had almost de-recognised the GTUC and conspired with a number of unions to revive the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Guyana, a parallel to GTUC.