Public Service Union demands conciliation, threatens industrial action; govt says ‘no’ conciliation because of court case

Last Updated on Thursday, 4 April 2024, 19:55 by Denis Chabrol

–Yarde refuses to talk about repeated failure to take industrial action

President of the Guyana Public Service Union, Patrick Yarde (centre at table) flanked by other members of the Executive Council

The Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU) on Thursday said it dispatched a letter to the Ministry of Labour threatening industrial action and asking for conciliation, saying that there is a deadlock after three years of efforts to secure collective bargaining with the government for increased salaries and better working conditions.

“We asked the Ministry of Labour to conciliate which is the second step and we have the evidence, which we’ll share with you. It took 148 days for the Chief Labour Officer to reply to us and he did so after we wrote him indicating that we’ve lost confidence in him,” GPSU President, Patrick Yarde told a news conference.

However, Minister of Labour Joseph Hamilton on Thursday said the latest letter by the union is the third such request in recent months but the government’s position remained the same- there could be no conciliation because the GPSU has a case before the High Court on the very issue of collective bargaining. “There can be no action from the Ministry of Labour because this matter is before the court and GPSU must be reminded that they filed a matter against the Public Service Ministry dealing with the same issue regarding collective bargaining so, at the moment, the Ministry of Labour can have no role,”  Mr Hamilton told Demerara Waves Online News.

The High Court is being asked to determine whether the absence of collective bargaining violates Guyana’s constitution, relevant laws and a number of International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions.

But, Mr Yarde insisted that the Ministry of Labour’s Chief Labour Officer was now expected to call the two parties together for conciliation. He said the biggest objective is to secure collective bargaining. “Conciliation must be entertained if a deadlock is declared by either party. It is not for the Chief Labour Officer to determine that. The agreement states ‘if either party’ says there is a deadlock, they can approach him for conciliation,” said Mr Yarde, a veteran trade unionist.

The GPSU President said the union was prepared to take industrial action, including workers of Essential Services, but refused to say within what time frame and what form such action would take. “It is not something that will happen instantly but definitely, it won’t be indefinitely,” he added.   The GPSU represents, among others Air Traffic Controllers, a section of Guyana Power and Light workers and healthcare personnel.

Pressed for a time-frame for industrial action, Mr Yarde bluntly refused. “I would not state a date. How many times must I say that? They are my members and I will communicate with them and they are communicating to me,” he said.

Asked why should public servants take him seriously given the fact that, except for a few short-lived protests in recent years, there has been no industrial action, he said that was a matter for GPSU members. “That’s our relationship; that’s not yours…I invite you here to acquaint you here with what we’re doing but if you are going to get into the domain of the relationship between me and the members, I will put a line,” he said.

Mr Yarde said, mindful of the adverse impact of the 57-day strike in 1999 on the business community and the laying off of workers because of a shortage of materials, the GPSU said “we took a different approach.” That crippling industrial action had seen the forced closure of several wharves that had blocked imports and exports.

Executive Member, Vera Naughton listed a series of failed efforts to get the government to come to the table to engage in collective bargaining.

The GPSU is banking on its assumption that there are sufficient funds in national budgets as well as uncollected revenue and oil earnings, government could afford to pay at least a 50 percent salary increase.

Insisting that the GPSU’s position was “respect for collective bargaining” but he refused to say what would be the next step if conciliation breaks down. Asked whether he did not expect that the “process be respected” for the last several years and why he thought that would happen now, he demurred: “Sir, there are things that ain’t happen for decades eventually does occur.”

Mr Yarde has been President of the GPSU since 1987.