Ar­bi­tral chair­per­son

Stabroek News Sunday - - REGIONAL & WORLD NEWS -

There has never been a Min­is­ter of Labour, se­nior or ju­nior, in this coun­try quite as ill in­formed, blun­der­ing or pre­cip­i­tate as Mr Keith Scott, the present in­cum­bent. It is noth­ing short of ex­tra­or­di­nary that the Pres­i­dent, who af­ter all ap­pointed him, has not in­ter­vened to achieve a more ra­tio­nal dis­po­si­tion of hu­man re­sources at the high­est level in the Depart­ment of Labour, or at a min­i­mum, held a read­ing of the riot act and moved to is­sue spe­cific in­struc­tions on how to pro­ceed. Pres­i­dent Granger’s fail­ure to in­sist that Min­is­ter Scott ad­heres to the law now leaves the pop­u­la­tion ‒ more par­tic­u­larly par­ents and chil­dren ‒ fac­ing the prospect of an­other teach­ers’ strike about a week from now.

Mr Scott’s lat­est ex­am­ple of bungling comes in the form of im­pos­ing the Chair­per­son of an Ar­bi­tra­tion Panel on the Guyana Teach­ers’ Union (GTU) in cir­cum­stances where that is il­le­gal. Ac­cord­ing to the Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC) he has pro­ceeded on the ba­sis of Sec­tion 4 of the Labour Act Cap 98:01, which pro­vides for a min­is­te­rial role when com­pul­sory ar­bi­tra­tion is in­volved. How­ever, this does not ap­ply in the present cir­cum­stances, be­cause both sides in the dis­pute have agreed to move to ar­bi­tra­tion un­der the col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing process.

As such, there­fore, what the Min­is­ter should have ap­plied is the 1990 GTU and Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion Mem­o­ran­dum of Agree­ment which fol­lowed a nine-day strike, and lays down that within 24 hours af­ter a full re­sump­tion of work, both sides will meet to de­ter­mine the terms of ref­er­ence for the Ar­bi­tra­tion Panel. As we re­ported last Wed­nes­day, this mem­o­ran­dum states, “the ar­bi­tra­tion panel shall com­prise of one mem­ber nom­i­nated by the union, one mem­ber nom­i­nated by the Min­istry and a Chair­man mu­tu­ally agreed upon by both par­ties. The Min­istry of Labour shall nom­i­nate the chair­man in the event the par­ties fail to reach agree­ment.”

Trade union­ist Mr Lin­coln Lewis has em­pha­sized in the me­dia that even in the case of a fail­ure to agree, the op­er­a­tive word in the quo­ta­tion above is ‘nom­i­nate’, not ap­point. The GTUC had a fur­ther ref­er­ence, this time to the Mem­o­ran­dum signed by the GTU and the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion on Septem­ber 6, 2018, which states, “A chair­per­son [shall be] agreed to by the em­ployer and the GTU.”

Well Mr Scott, who, it seems, is still stum­bling along like a novice, has a com­pan­ion lurk­ing in the bu­reau­cracy of the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion. On Fri­day we re­ported on a let­ter is­sued from the min­is­te­rial Sec­re­tariat there which cited the pro­vi­sions of the 1983 Mem­o­ran­dum of Agree­ment ‘The Avoid­ance and Set­tle­ment of Dis­putes.’ It states that “dur­ing the con­sid­er­a­tion of the mat­ter Iden­tity is what you can say you are ac­cord­ing to what they say you can be – Jill John­ston in dis­pute un­der the griev­ance pro­ce­dure, there shall be no strike, stop­page of work whether of a par­tial or gen­eral na­ture, go slow, boy­cott, pick­et­ing, re­tar­da­tion of pro­duc­tion or any other in­ter­fer­ence with the Min­istry’s op­er­a­tions by the Union, nor shall there be any lock out or any other form of in­ter­fer­ence by the Min­istry…”

Teach­ers were then “kindly ad­vised” that any ac­tion which vi­o­lated the re­quire­ment would be il­le­gal, and the min­istry would en­sure that ap­pro­pri­ate con­se­quences would fol­low.

GTU Gen­eral Sec­re­tary Coretta McDon­ald was any­thing but in­tim­i­dated by this warn­ing, in­form­ing her union’s mem­bers that it em­anated from the Min­is­ter’s sec­re­tariat, and Ms Henry was not the au­thor­ity em­pow­ered to is­sue in­struc­tions to teach­ers; that right lay with the Chief Ed­u­ca­tion Of­fi­cer. That aside, she ad­verted to the fact that they have not started the process of ar­bi­tra­tion yet, and ar­bi­tra­tion is the con­text in which the sec­tion quoted has rel­e­vance. The two par­ties, she told have not even com­pleted the terms of ref­er­ence, let alone started the ar­bi­tra­tion process.

Af­ter any num­ber of pre-elec­tion prom­ises, teach­ers are now dis­cov­er­ing what the pub­lic ser­vants dis­cov­ered some time ago; politi­cians’ pre-elec­tion com­mit­ments are lit­tle more than hot air. The GTU wasted no time in try­ing to ne­go­ti­ate a multi-year salary and non-salary ben­e­fit with the new gov­ern­ment, start­ing in 2015. The talks pro­ceeded nowhere, and af­ter the col­lapse of talks two years later and the threat of a strike, the Pres­i­dent in­ter­vened and set up a high level Task Force which in­cluded in its num­ber the Fi­nance Sec­re­tary from the Min­istry of Fi­nance.

This phase of pro­ceed­ings lasted for five months, but the gov­ern­ment balked at im­ple­ment­ing its rec­om­men­da­tions which in­volved giv­ing teach­ers a 40% in­crease on 2015 salaries and 5% for the four re­main­ing years of the agree­ment. This would have trans­lated into $4 bil­lion for teach­ers, and $10 bil­lion if the prin­ci­ple were to be ex­tended to all pub­lic ser­vants. As a con­se­quence, the gov­ern­ment re­jected the Task Force re­port as de­fi­cient.

As an al­ter­na­tive teach­ers were of­fered a $700 mil­lion ball park fig­ure for 2018 in­creases, but this was re­jected by the teach­ers, and the union called a strike from Au­gust 27 af­ter the min­istry showed it­self un­pre­pared to go to ar­bi­tra­tion. It was dur­ing this pe­riod that Min­is­ter Scott dis­tin­guished him­self again by call­ing the teach­ers “self­ish and un­car­ing”, an as­per­sion made worse by the fact that it was his depart­ment which was sup­posed to be the con­cil­i­at­ing agency be­tween the union and the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion af­ter the Task Force fi­asco. As a con­se­quence, he should have had no com­ment to make of any kind; how­ever, not un­typ­i­cally, he ap­peared bliss­fully un­aware of what con­sti­tuted the kind of ap­pro­pri­ate be­hav­iour the sit­u­a­tion de­manded. On that oc­ca­sion he was obliged to apol­o­gise to teach­ers, but it was al­ready too late.

Fac­ing the em­bar­rass­ment of so many teach­ers on the street with more join­ing ev­ery day, the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion in­di­cated it was pre­pared to go to ar­bi­tra­tion af­ter all as the GTU was de­mand­ing, and a meet­ing be­tween the two sides was held on the terms of ref­er­ence and the mat­ter of a chair­per­son. Both sides re­jected the other’s nom­i­nees, al­though those pro­posed by the min­istry were bizarre choices at best, since they were both serv­ing mem­bers of the pub­lic ser­vice, which clearly dis­qual­i­fied them on con­flict of in­ter­est grounds, as Pres­i­dent of the GTU, Mark Lyte, wasted no time in point­ing out.

So now we have reached the po­si­tion where ear­lier last week Min­is­ter Scott and Chief Labour Of­fi­cer Charles Ogle “ap­pointed” Dr Ley­land Lu­cas, an aca­demic, as Chair of the ar­bi­tra­tion panel. The Depart­ment of Pub­lic In­for­ma­tion quoted Min­is­ter Scott as say­ing, “those acts of ap­point­ing the chair­man [are]… placed squarely, af­ter the break­down of the two sides, in the prov­ince of the Min­istry of So­cial Pro­tec­tion. It’s not a ques­tion of ac­cep­tance or re­jec­tion. We have gone ahead, acted in ac­cor­dance with the law and we have cho­sen the per­son who in our opin­ion hap­pens to be the best.”

His lam­en­ta­ble mis­un­der­stand­ing of the laws has al­ready been noted, but the prob­lem is he has cre­ated a sit­u­a­tion where the gov­ern­ment has now to back out of a cor­ner, never an easy thing for gov­ern­ments to do. The sim­plest method was that sug­gested by the GTU at the end of last week, namely for Dr Lu­cas to vol­un­tar­ily with­draw from the ap­point­ment; how­ever, up to the time of writ­ing he has had noth­ing to say about the mat­ter. If he does not with­draw, then we are in for a stress­ful pe­riod in labour re­la­tions which, on the ba­sis of his record, Mr Scott is not likely to ame­lio­rate. And this time, the Pres­i­dent should note, FITUG and the GTUC are read­ing from the same page in the text book.

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