United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1993 - Guyana, 30 January 1994, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa4934.html [accessed 11 March 2014]
This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
The Co-operative Republic of Guyana, a member of the Commonwealth of Nations and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), is a small, multiracial developing nation with a unicameral Parliament chosen by direct election in a multiparty political system. Dr. Cheddi Jagan, leader of the party obtaining a plurality of seats in Parliament, was sworn in as Executive President on October 9, 1992. The President appoints a Prime Minister and other ministers. There was general agreement among international observers that the 1992 elections were free and fair. Security forces are comprised of the Guyana Defense Force (GDF) and the Guyana Police Force (GPF). The latter has primary responsibility for maintaining law and order throughout Guyana. The police and security forces are subordinate to the civilian government. Guyanese social and political life is strongly influenced by the presence of two main ethnic groups, the Afro-Guyanese and the Indo-Guyanese. Urban Afro-Guyanese dominate the opposition People's National Congress (PNC), the civil service, and the security forces; Indo-Guyanese predominate in the agricultural and business sectors and in the ruling People's Progressive Party (PPP). Guyana's economy depends on agriculture and mining, with sugar, rice, bauxite, and gold being the major export earners. Despite an estimated growth rate of 8.2 percent in 1993, Guyana's per capita gross domestic product was only about $465 in 1992. The economy suffers from high external debt, shortages of skilled labor, and a deteriorating infrastructure. Human rights problems in Guyana in 1993 continued to include extrajudicial killings by police, and police rape and other abuse of detainees and prisoners. Police generally were able to commit these abuses with impunity. Societal violence against women and children, and discrimination against the indigenous Amerindians continued. There were still limitations on workers' rights, but political control of union activity diminished somewhat.
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing
No political killings are known to have occurred in recent years. There were credible allegations that police are responsible for deliberate, illegal executions. In most instances, there was a failure to investigate and prosecute the responsible police officers. On September 5, two police officers shot and killed Ricky Samaroo and Joseph "Dingo" Persaud in Georgetown. Persaud had earlier been a witness in a civil case against police officers accused of murdering a suspect, Michael Teekah, in 1988. Another witness against police in the same case reported that six police officers threatened to kill him and Persaud. Two days after the killings, the police department bestowed cash awards on the two policemen responsible for the deaths of Persaud and Samaroo. The police claimed an investigation was being conducted but have ignored the Guyana Human Rights Association's (GHRA) inquiries into its progress. On June 4, Frank Wilson was shot and killed at the police station where he had worked as a laborer for 12 years. Police claim Wilson committed suicide, but his family believed he was murdered. Authorities ignored the family's calls for an investigation into the death. Seven inmates escaped from the Mazaruni prison in July. Police shot three of the escaped prisoners, killing two, during operations to recapture them.
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances, clandestine detentions, or abductions.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Although the Constitution prohibits torture, the GHRA and the press reported a rising number of incidents of police brutality. On occasion, confessions have been thrown out of court on the grounds that they were coerced. There were also credible reports of police officers involved in criminal activity, including extortion, intimidation, and assault, although the number of such charges declined since 1991. The independent newspaper Stabroek News, in an October 19 editorial entitled "Business as Usual," stated, "short on skills and resources, the cops have maintained their now traditional routine of beating and harassment to persuade suspects to talk. In the process, the guilty and the not guilty confess, and these 'confessions' become the focal point of the vast majority of cases at the criminal assizes." In July a police detective was demoted and transferred from the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) after being accused of brutality. Also in July, the head of CID, who was also accused of brutality, resigned from the police force after being transferred to the administrative section. In August legal counsel for five men accused of smuggling cocaine into Guyana claimed in court that police beat his clients to gain confessions, but he offered no independent evidence to support this claim. Citizens complained that members of the Special Police Impact Group beat them with rifle butts for no other reason than being out on the streets late at night. Eleven Angolans who entered Guyana illegally from Brazil were detained in police custody for several months while their applications for political asylum were considered. The African Cultural and Development Association (ACDA) claimed police beat four of the Angolans after they went on a hunger strike. The Commissioner of Police claimed that the four had damaged police property by throwing chairs around and "got physical" with police while being moved from one location to another. The Amerindian Peoples Association (APA) charged that there is a systematic pattern of abuse of Amerindians, particularly abuse of Amerindian women by police and soldiers stationed in interior communities. In September the Minister of Home Affairs received a report that police in the Orealla Amerindian reservation were arresting Amerindian women on false charges and sexually assaulting them in the jail. The APA said that all the policemen were transferred out of the reservation but complained that no investigation was carried out and no criminal charges were filed against any of the policemen. There is no independent body charged with looking into complaints of police brutality or abuse. The Ombudsman lacks the authority to look into allegations of police misconduct. Such cases are heard by the Police Complaints Authority (PCA). The PCA has no power to interview police officers or witnesses, must rely on material submitted by the police, and must refer cases of alleged abuse to the Commissioner of Police. Investigations of such charges are perfunctory and rarely result in serious disciplinary action. Officers charged as a result of complaints to the PCA are routinely suspended for a few days and sometimes fined but are rarely jailed. In essence, the police force is responsible for investigating itself and failed to do so effectively. Prisons continued to be severely overcrowded. According to the Ombudsman, Guyana had 267 prison inmates per 100,000 population in 1992. The GHRA cited poor diet, inadequate medical attention, underpaid and poorly trained staff, and lengthy trial delays as problems facing the prison system. The Ombudsman reported receiving 33 complaints from prisoners in 1992. Prisoners complained of prison conditions, unreasonable charges, mail delays, and censorship. Suraj Persaud, a teenage boy, was beaten to death in Brickdam jail in Georgetown. The GHRA complained to Police Commissioner Laurie Lewis that fellow youthful prisoners beat Persaud over a period of several days with no attempt by police to intervene. Lewis did not respond to the GHRA complaint. All letters sent by prisoners to the Ombudsman are opened by prison officials. The GHRA applied to have one of its members named to the prison visiting committee but received no response from the Government. The Government also failed to appoint a GHRA member to the new prison advisory committee charged with recommending ways to reform the prison system. According to the GHRA, all women prisoners in Guyana are held in one prison. The facility's isolated location and lack of adequate staff make it difficult for family members to visit. There were credible allegations that female detainees were sexually abused by the police.
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
The Constitution provides that no person may be deprived of personal liberty except as authorized by law and requires judicial determination of the legality of detention, a mandate that was generally respected in practice in 1993. Arrest does not require a warrant issued by a court official, only an assessment of guilt by the police officer. The law requires that a person arrested and held for more than 24 hours be brought before a court to be charged. Chief Magistrate K. Juman Yassin publicly complained that suspects are often detained for more than 24 hours but never charged. Bail is generally available except in capital cases. In narcotics cases, magistrates have some discretion in granting bail before trial but must send all persons convicted on narcotics charges to custody, even if an appeal is pending. Exile is not practiced.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trail
The Constitution provides that anyone charged with a criminal offense has the right to a hearing by a court of law, and this right is respected in practice. Guyana has a functioning bail system. Defendants are granted public trials, and appeal may be made to higher courts. There are no political prisoners or special courts for political security cases. Several persons charged in an alleged coup plot, held since 1990, were released from custody without trial in 1993. In the past, some members of the opposition to the previous PNC governments expressed concern over court rulings in libel suits brought by government officials as well as other governmental use of the courts to harass political opponents. The judiciary now exerts greater independence due to the freer political atmosphere which has developed in the country since 1985. The present Government made no attempt to use the courts to intimidate the opposition. Delays in judicial proceedings are often caused by shortages of trained court administrative personnel and magistrates, inadequate resources, low salary levels, and the slowness of police in getting cases ready for trial. The inefficiency of the judicial system is so great as to undermine due process. Prisoners are often detained 3 or 4 years awaiting trial. Appeals of some murder cases have been delayed for several years. Postponements are routinely granted to both the defense and the prosecution. In a recent session of the Court of Appeals, eight criminal appeals were dismissed for lack of prosecution. The defendants had served their full sentences (3 years on the average) and had been released from prison before the appeal could be heard. The Chief Magistrate reported that it is not uncommon for defendants to be incarcerated for 2 to 3 years pending trial. Although the laws of Guyana recognize the right to legal counsel, in practice, with the exception of capital crimes, it has been limited to those who can afford to pay. A small groups of lawyers is working to begin a Legal Aid clinic. The Government has provided a small cash grant for the clinic as well as the services of a lawyer from the Attorney General's office. The clinic is expected to open early in 1994 after the Government provides office space. Due to resource constraints, the clinic initially will limit its activities to certain types of civil cases in Georgetown. Apart from these efforts, virtually no lawyers work pro bono in criminal cases. Defendants in murder cases are assigned an attorney by the court. The Guyana Association of Women Lawyers provides free legal services for civil cases only.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The Government generally respects the right to privacy, although some politicians claimed instances of surveillance by the previous PNC government of political meetings and rallies. (Uniformed police officers routinely monitor such rallies.) The laws requiring judicially issued warrants for searches were generally respected in 1993.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The Constitutional provision for freedom of speech is generally respected, and Guyanese freely criticize their government and its policies. The Government generally ignored often savage ad hominem attacks on President Jagan and his Government by the opposition PNC newspaper New Nation. However, a businessman was pressured by a government official to withdraw advertising from the paper, and there were credible charges that foreign investors were pressured to cancel contracts with consultants who were former PNC government officials. President Jagan and members of his Government criticized the independent daily newspaper Stabroek News for what they considered unfair and inaccurate reporting but took no action against the paper. The government-owned Guyana Television and the two radio stations controlled by the government-owned Guyana Broadcasting Corporation offer relatively evenhanded reporting of local events. Guyana has no private radio stations but does have six private television stations in Georgetown, and several more in outlying towns. Two of the private television stations offer frequent public affairs programming which is often critical of the Government, and they began to produce Guyana's first independent newscasts in 1993. In past years, the Government exercised varying degrees of control over the media through ownership of what had been the country's only daily newspaper (the Guyana Chronicle), the communications agency, the two radio stations, and the issuance of import licenses for newsprint and printing presses. The Minister of Information stated that the Government will not privatize the state-owned media, but the Government's role in the media nonetheless declined greatly due to the increased availability of other newspapers and the rapid growth of television. In 1993 the independent Stabroek News expanded publication to seven times a week and added a weekly regional edition. Independent and opposition newspapers frequently criticize the Government in editorials and satirize it in cartoons. There were no restrictions on academic freedom.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The Public Order Act requires police permits for mass political meetings. The Police Commissioner has the authority to refuse permission for a public meeting at his discretion and without explanation. There was no evidence that he used this authority for political purposes in 1993. Political parties and other groups held public meetings and rallies throughout the country without hindrance.
c. Freedom of Religion
Guyanese practice a wide variety of religions, the major faiths being Christianity, Hinduism, and Islam. The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and members of all faiths are allowed to worship freely. There are no restrictions on foreign religious groups proselytizing in Guyana.
d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
The Constitution provides for freedom of movement within Guyana. Travel to Amerindian areas requires government permission, the result of a law dating from colonial times designed to protect the indigenous peoples from exploitation. Prior to the 1992 elections, the GHRA, opposition politicians, and some clergy contended that permits were sometimes denied to missionaries and non-PNC politicians, and that the regulations were used to maintain PNC influence among the Amerindians. In practice, however, most people travel throughout these areas without regard to the formality of a permit. Guyanese are free to travel abroad, to emigrate, and to return. Guyana did not generate political refugees in 1993. Eleven Angolans and one or two other Africans who entered Guyana from Brazil applied for political asylum. On the advice of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, most of the applications were ultimately approved.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government
Guyana has a unicameral Parliament which is chosen by direct election in a multiparty political system based on proportional representation. The leader of the party which obtains a plurality of seats in Parliament during national elections is sworn in as Executive President. The President appoints a Cabinet, headed by a Prime Minister, which together with the President exercises executive power. Guyanese are free to join or support political parties of their choice. The 1992 general election, considered free and fair if not entirely unflawed by foreign observers, brought the major opposition party to power while turning the then governing party into the main opposition. Despite constitutional provisions, elections were still not held on schedule or in a consistent manner. The general election was delayed from 1990 to October 1992; municipal elections, scheduled for December 1992, had not been held by the end of 1993. No progress was made on reforming or replacing the Constitution, which grants an inordinate amount of power to the President. Constitutional reform requires a two-thirds majority in Parliament, which could only be achieved through the cooperation of the ruling party and the opposition. Only one constitutional amendment was proposed during the 1993 parliamentary session, to change the composition of the National Elections Commission, and this was eventually agreed to after extended negotiations among the four parties represented in Parliament. There are no legal impediments to women or minorities participating in the political process, but historically neither women nor Amerindians were encouraged to participate, other than by voting. Any Guyanese citizen 18 years or older can register to vote, and about 80 percent of those registered cast votes in the 1992 election. President Jagan's Cabinet includes two women, two persons of Portuguese descent, one of Chinese origin, eight of East Indian extraction, four Afro-Guyanese, and one Amerindian. The new 65-member Parliament includes 13 women and 8 Amerindians, representing both major parties.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
The Guyana Human Rights Association, the most active local human rights group, functioned without government interference in 1993. The GHRA is a nongovernmental organization formed in 1979 with the participation of trade unions, professional organizations, various ethnic groups, and churches. It issues periodic press releases and publishes an annual report on human rights in Guyana. The Government made no public statements in response to either GHRA or foreign human rights reports. The GHRA received no threats in 1993.
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status
In principle, the Constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex and commits the Government to ensure equal pay for equal work. However, a 1988 government-sponsored constitutional amendment rendered the equal pay provision unenforceable except in cases in which equal pay for equal work is provided for by specific statute. No such statutes have been enacted. The 1990 Equal Rights Act was meant to end sex discrimination, but the failure to include a specific definition of discrimination rendered the Act unenforceable. There is no legal protection against widespread sexual harassment in the workplace, and dismissal on the grounds of pregnancy is common and not illegal. Other legislation passed by the Parliament in 1990 protects women's property rights under common law marriage, entitling a woman who separates or divorces to one-half of the couple's property if she had been working and one-third of the property if she had been a housewife. However, divorce by consent remains illegal, and there are unequal provisions regarding adultery as grounds for divorce. The legislation also gave authority to the courts to overturn a man's will in the event it did not provide for the wife. Violence against women and children, including domestic violence, is a significant problem. Wife beating, rape, and incest are common, but lawyers say their clients very rarely report such crimes to the authorities. Victims of such abuse who do seek redress from the police and the courts often suffer social retribution and additional harassment from the authorities charged with pursuing their claims. Because of their economic circumstances and the lack of any family shelters or other place of solace, victims of domestic violence are often trapped in their homes with their abusers. The National Women's Rights Campaign (NWRC) presented a draft bill on domestic violence to the Government in September which the Ministry of Labour, Human Services, and Social Security promised to table in Parliament in 1994. There are few organizations, other than those sponsored by political parties, that focus primarily on women's rights. Two exceptions are the Guyana chapter of the Caribbean Association for Feminist Research and Action (CAFRA) and the NWRC which opened a counseling center for victims of violent relationships in early 1993.
A 1992 U.N. Children's Fund (UNICEF) report on children and women in Guyana stated that "the rights of children and women to survival and development, to protection, and to participation have not been adequately met." An estimated 65 to 86 percent of the population of Guyana lives in poverty, and children are more severely affected than any other group. The severe deterioration of the public education and health care systems has stunted children's futures and often cut short their lives. For many children, health care has become unaffordable. Children are often denied access to education because their families cannot afford school fees, or because their families need the children to contribute to running the household by working or providing child care for other children. The worst effects on children's lives come from migration. Over 3 percent of Guyana's population emigrates every year in search of a brighter economic future. As parents migrate they often leave behind their children to be raised by other family members, friends, or by other children. Nearly 1 percent of Guyana's households are headed by children under the age of 14. The administration of justice for children is characterized by a punitive legal system which does not take into account the needs of children fleeing sexual, physical, or emotional abuse. The 1992 UNICEF report stated that the "human rights of children in institutions are essentially violated....Children are being detained in inhospitable prison conditions for as much as 6 months without trial and without being allowed to go to school. Children have been picked up from the streets and detained in an institution without being taken to court and without the consent of their families. Within both public and private institutions children report being beaten and sexually and emotionally molested." First Lady Janet Jagan and several ministers of government are strongly committed to children's human rights and welfare. In July the National Committee for the Survival, Protection, and Development of Children held its first meeting, chaired by Mrs. Jagan. The Committee is drafting a national program for action on children, but the Government's ability to improve the situation of children will be severely constrained by the lack of resources available to the State.
Guyana has a small indigenous Amerindian population, composed of nine tribal groups, most living in reservations and villages in remote parts of the interior. Their standard of living is much lower than that of most Guyanese, and their ability to participate in decisions affecting their lands, cultures, traditions, and the allocation of natural resources is virtually nil. Amerindian life is regulated by the Amerindian Act, legislation dating from colonial times designed to protect the indigenous peoples from exploitation. The Act gives the Government the power to determine who is an Amerindian and what is an Amerindian community. Additionally, the Act gives the Government the power to appoint Amerindian leaders and to cancel or annul any decisions made by Amerindian councils. Both individuals and Amerindian groups remain free to criticize the Government. Although many actively and openly oppose government policies, their influence on government policy was negligible. The Amerindian Act also prohibits the sale of alcohol to Amerindians and requires government permission before any Amerindian can accept formal employment. In December Parliament approved a motion to "appoint a Special Select Committee to study the Amerindian Act and to make recommendations for its revision along democratic lines to enlarge the self-determination of Amerindians." The motion passed with the unanimous support of all four parties represented in Parliament. In 1992 the Government distributed land titles to some Amerindian communities. The APA charged that the titles were distributed just before the elections in an attempt to win votes and criticized the allocations because they were smaller than recommended by the Government Lands Commission in 1968 and did not include mineral rights. The Government still holds title to 90 percent of the land claimed by Amerindians and, through the Amerindian Act, retains the ability to repossess the land titles already distributed if it determines that it is in the Amerindians' interest. Several large leases and concessions were granted, allowing mining and timber companies to operate on traditional Amerindian lands, often under contracts and terms never made public. Amerindians displaced by timber and mining operations in such cases have no legal recourse. In 1993 the foreign-owned Barama company began timber operations on 4.2 million acres of primary tropical forest where five Amerindian communities are located. Of the 1,200 Amerindians living within the Barama concession, only 550 live in government-recognized Amerindian villages. The rest are scattered along the rivers and have no legal protection for their homesteads. The APA claimed that the traditional hunting, fishing, and farming lands of the Amerindian communities are being destroyed and that nine families living inside the Barama concession have been removed from their land. The APA also claimed that Barama was denying Amerindians access to their traditional forest paths and waterways within the Barama concession. Barama officials denied these claims, saying that a total of four families relocated voluntarily to new housing built at Barama's expense. Barama further claimed that it respected the boundaries of Amerindian communities and that environmental damage in these areas was often caused by gold miners operating without supervision in the region. In late 1992, the new Government appointed an Amerindian to the new position of Minister of Amerindian Affairs. The Minister considers himself a liaison between Amerindians and the Government. However, as a junior minister in the Ministry of Public Works, Communications, and Regional Development, he has no staff and no separate budget. The APA and the Guyanese Organization of Indigenous Peoples complained that he is consequently ineffective in the position.
The Constitution provides fundamental rights for all persons in Guyana regardless of race, sex, religion, or national origin. Guyanese society and political life continue to be influenced by longstanding ethnic tensions, primarily between Guyanese of African and East Indian descent. The civil service and defense and police forces are overwhelmingly staffed by Afro-Guyanese. This is largely the result of historical circumstances and does not reflect a deliberate policy of the present Government. Recruitment efforts targeted at Indo-Guyanese candidates for the uniformed services generally have met with an unenthusiastic response, with most qualified Indo-Guyanese candidates opting for a business or professional career over military, police, or public service.
People with Disabilities
Guyana has several special schools and training centers for the disabled, but like the rest of the educational system these are understaffed and in severe disrepair. The disabled generally are considered unemployable because of the lack of appropriate infrastructure to provide accessibility in both public and private facilities. There is no law mandating provision of access for people with disabilities.
Section 6 Worker Rights
a. The Right of Association
The right of association is provided for in the Constitution, which specifically enumerates a worker's right to "form or belong to trade unions." Employers are not required by law to recognize a union in the workplace, even if a large majority of workers have indicated their desire to be represented by a union. The Minister of Labour sent a new trade union recognition bill to the Attorney General for comment, but it had not been laid before Parliament by the end of the year. Most union members work in the public sector and in state-owned enterprises, although in 1993 unions gained recognition in several of Guyana's newly privatized industries. Organized labor in Guyana freely associates in one major national federation, the Guyana Trades Union Congress (TUC), composed of 22 unions. From 1988 to 1993, six unions suspended their involvement in the TUC and formed the Federation of Independent Trades Unions of Guyana (FITUG) to protest longstanding political control of the TUC by the PNC. After long negotiations with the FITUG unions, the TUC adopted democratic reforms to its constitution in February 1993. The FITUG unions returned to the TUC at a special conference in September during which a FITUG member was elected president in the TUC's first free elections since the mid-1970s. There is a tradition of close ties between Guyana's trade union movement and political parties, particularly the PNC which controlled the Government (and thus public sector employment) for 28 years until 1992. Historically, the two major political parties wielded significant influence over the leadership of a number of unions, and trade union officials often served in dual roles as party officials. President Cheddi Jagan is on leave as honorary president of Guyana's largest union, the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers' Union, and former President Hoyte is president general of the Guyana Labour Union. Several other unions in the TUC are formally affiliated with the PNC, and several FITUG unions have close ties with other political parties. Workers have a generally recognized right to strike, but public employees providing essential services are normally forbidden to strike (a procedure exists for the review of their grievances by a tribunal appointed by the Minister of Labour). When four public sector unions called a "work to rule" by government employees to protest delays in wage negotiations, President Jagan said, "they have a right to strike, but they must strike responsibly." Unions representing the water works, the state-owned radio stations, and the telephone company called short strikes or "work to rule" actions. In October the union representing workers at the state-owned electricity company called a strike which lasted 7 days after the Prime Minister forbade management from signing a wage agreement that had been negotiated with the union. Unions representing workers in the sugar, bauxite, timber, and seafood industries also staged short strikes. Most of these strikes were called to support negotiations for higher wages or better working conditions, although a significant number of strikes were the result of interunion recognition battles. Labor disputes are frequently settled through consultation and dialog without resorting to strikes or other industrial action. Unions and their federations freely maintain relations with recognized Caribbean and international trade union and professional groups. All three of the major international labor federations have affiliates in Guyana.
b. The Right To Organize and Bargain Collectively
Public and private sector employees possess and utilize the generally accepted right to organize and to bargain collectively. The Ministry of Labour certifies all collective bargaining agreements and has never refused to do so. This right is not codified, however, and employers are not legally required to recognize unions or bargain with them. For two decades the TUC's traditional ties (through PNC-affiliated unions) to the former PNC-controlled government limited the unions' ability to negotiate effectively on behalf of workers in both the private and public sectors. In 1993 the new Government repealed a regulation requiring the Government and all public corporations to engage in collective bargaining only with the TUC and not with individual unions. The result of that regulation had been that salaries and working conditions in the Government and public sector enterprises were dictated by the Government. However, unions complained about a new regulation that all wage settlements with the Government or public corporations had to be approved by the Ministry of Finance. The Chief Labour Officer and the staff of the Ministry of Labour provide consultation, enforcement, and conciliation services. In 1993, 47 collective bargaining agreements were concluded and certified by the Ministry of Labour, up from 26 the year before. The Ministry has a backlog of cases, and insufficient manpower and transportation severely limit the Ministry's ability to carry out its functions. The Ministry of Labour documented no cases of antiunion discrimination during 1993. However, union leaders make credible charges that workers attempting to unionize workplaces are harassed and intimidated and that the Ministry does not expeditiously investigate complaints that employers are dismissing workers when confronted with union organizing efforts. A foreign-owned timber company fired workers who went on strike to protest supposed delays by the Ministry of Labour in holding a recognition poll between rival PNC and PPP unions, but the company later rehired all employees who returned to work. There is no legal mechanism to require employers found guilty of antiunion discrimination to rehire employees fired for union activities. Guyana has no export processing zones.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The Constitution prohibits forced or compulsory labor, and there is no indication that it exists.
d. Minimum Age of Employment of Children
Minimum age laws are set out in the Factories Act and the Employment of Young Persons and Children Act. Legally, no person under 14 years of age may be employed in any industrial undertaking, and no person under 16 may be employed at night, except under regulated circumstances. The terms "industry" and "factory" as used in the law have been interpreted by the Ministry of Labour to encompass nearly all workplaces except offices and retail shops. According to the law, children under age 14 may be employed only in enterprises in which members of the same family are employed. The local economic situation has forced more and more young children into the work force, however, and it is common throughout the country to see very young children engaged in street trading. While cognizant of the situation, the Ministry of Labour does not employ sufficient inspectors to enforce existing laws effectively.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The Government establishes a public sector minimum wage which was $1.35 per day as of July 1, 1993. The Labour Act and the Wages Councils Act allow the Labour Ministry to set minimum wages for various categories of private employers. In November official minimum wages were raised by over 400 percent; the minimum wage for unskilled workers was set at $0.17 per hour. Both the legal minimum wage for the private sector and the public sector minimum wage are currently insufficient to provide a decent standard of living for a family. Hours of employment are set under the Shops Act and the Factories Act and vary by industry and sector. In general, work in excess of an 8-hour day and a 44-hour week requires payment of an overtime rate. The law does not provide for at least one 24-hour rest period. The Factories Act sets forth workplace safety and health standards. The Occupational Health and Safety Division of the Ministry of Labour is charged with conducting factory inspections and investigating complaints of substandard workplace and conditions. As with its other responsibilities, inadequate resources prevented the Ministry from effectively carrying out this function. Workers cannot remove themselves from dangerous work situations without jeopardy to continued employment.