Trade unions have long been an integral part of securing workers’ rights in Guyana but Labour Minister Joseph Hamilton has lamented that during his tenure in office, it appears as though current union leaders are only interested in securing pay increases for workers.
Hamilton, who emphasised that he was intentionally calling out union leaders, said that he has engaged the heads of the various unions on several occasions since taking office in 2020.
During that time, however, he said that those engagements have been centered on securing pay increases and not other crucial considerations, such as the safety of workers at their workplaces.
“What is the use that (sic) you argue and make a case, and you win the case, that a man should be paid $10,000 a day and then the next week, he dies?” Hamilton questioned.
He expressed these sentiments while addressing a Health, Safety, Security & Environment (HSSE) forum organised by the American Chamber of Commerce and Industry (AMCHAM) Guyana on Thursday.
This forum, according to AMCHAM’s President Devindra Kissoon, is meant to advance the local conversation on improving safety standards for all people.
And Hamilton said that this is a key consideration as Guyana continues to experience rapid development, owed largely to the nascent oil and gas sector. And Hamilton alluded to the key role that unions play.
During a recent virtual programme, Hamilton expressed his concerns about the work of the unions and at least one local trade union, the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU), emphasised that it has been advocating for more than pay increases.
GAWU said that it engaged the Labour Minister on several matters including Occupational Safety and Health (OSH), the need for strengthening regulations, the freedom of association, equality in the workplace and collective bargaining.
“In as much as the Minister did not attribute his sentiments to any particular union/s, his comments in our view does not help to enhance his image among the thousands of unionised workers in Guyana,” GAWU stated on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, at the forum, Hamilton also posited that developing a strong workplace safety culture should be a national focus – requiring input from all stakeholders.