As workers face problems in oil sector, GAWU hopes to step up representation

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Some workers in Guyana’s nascent oil and gas sector have been grappling with rights issues but the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) is hoping to step up representation to protect workers’ rights.

On Tuesday, GAWU inked a new Memorandum of Cooperation (MoC) with the Trinidadian Oilfield Workers’ Trade Union (OWTU) in hopes of learning how best oil workers in Guyana can be represented amid the rapidly developing sector.

GAWU’s President Seepaul Narine, during the signing ceremony on Tuesday, stated that the Guyanese union hopes to leverage the OWTU’s vast experience in the oil and gas sector amid efforts to officially represent oil workers in Guyana.

The local union has established a sub-body to deal with issues plaguing oil workers in Guyana but GAWU has not been certified as the representative body for these workers. Per law, GAWU can only apply for certification when at least 40 per cent of the workforce is a member of the union. GAWU, however, hopes that it can “raise consciousness” of the value of being unionised, even as Narine opined that Guyana has “many strong labour laws”.

GAWU’s President Seepaul Narine (eft) with resident General of the OWTU Ancel Roget after the new Memorandum of Cooperation (MoC) was signed (Photo: GAWC/ Facebook/ July 26, 2022)

Why this is necessary, he lamented, is because oil workers in Guyana already face issues that include employers’ unwillingness to pay overtime and to provide appropriate personal and protective equipment (PPEs).

Because these workers are not yet unioned, Narine explained that GAWU is largely dependent on the Ministry of Labour engaging the companies.

“In resolving issues of workers, one cannot depend on any Ministry of Labour whether the government is friendly to the contractor or not.

“It is only unionisation that will be able to take workers out of their difficulties,” Narine said however.

Another challenge in representing workers is that different hiring companies source workers on behalf of the contractors. As such, Narine said that it becomes complicated representing the workers.

These issues and more have already been experienced by workers in Trinidad and Tobago (T&T), the President General of the OWTU Ancel Roget said during the signing ceremony. As such, he believes that the Trinidadian union is well able to aid GAWU’s efforts at stepping up representation.

“It stands to reason that with the recent development of the oil and gas sector in Guyana that they would turn to their brother union for advice, support, direction and training and development assistance on how to best have their workers, the people in Guyana, benefit from the resources of the land,” Roget stated.

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