Contributed by: Mr. Mohamed A. Akeel, A.A, November 2001
Updated by: Natacha Wexels-Riser, June 2004
Guyana became a British colony in 1815, after two centuries of Dutch presence. Following the abolition of slavery in 1834, the plantation owners imported almost 250,000 labourers from India, but also from Portugal and China, dramatically transforming the country's demographic balance and laying the basis for persistent ethnic tensions, mainly between Afro-Guyanese and Indo-Guyanese.
In 1953, the colonial government permitted the first popular elections, won by the People's Progressive Party (PPP), led by Forbes Burnham. After some political unrest, elections were held again in 1957 and 1961, and won by the PPP, by then led by Cheddi Jagan. Forbes Burnham had broken away from the PPP and founded what eventually became the People's National Congress (PNC), which won the elections in 1964, thanks to an alliance with another party.
Guyana achieved independence on 26 May, 1966, and became a republic on 23 February 1970. After independence Forbes Burnham ruled Guyana first as Prime Minister and later, after the adoption of a new constitution in 1980, as Executive President. After his death in 1985, Prime Minister Desmond Hoyte acceded to the presidency. He gradually brought Guyana from state socialism and one-party control to a market economy and unrestricted freedom of the press and assembly.
In October 1992, a new National Assembly was elected in the first Guyanese election since 1964 to be internationally recognized as free and fair. Cheddi Jagan was elected President, but died in 1997. His widow, Janet Jagan, took over the presidency. She resigned in 1999 due to ill health and was succeeded by Finance Minster Bharrat Jagdeo, who remained in office following a PPP coalition's victory in 2001 elections.
Samuel Hinds, who took over as Prime Minister in 1997, still holds the post.
The country is located in Northern South America, bordering the North Atlantic Ocean, between Suriname and Venezuela. Its land area is 196,850 square kilometres, including portions of the territory which are claimed by Venezuela and Suriname. Its population in 2003 was slightly above 700,000.
The present Constitution was promulgated in 1980, and amended in 1996.
Guyana is an indivisible (Non-Federal), secular, democratic sovereign State.
Guyana got its first constitution in May, 1966 when it became independent. This provided for a Westminster (British) style of government with the Head of State (President) being ceremonial, or titular and appointed by the National Assembly after elections which are held every five (5) years and the Head of Government being elected by the people and appointed by the President.
This ushered in a Republican government whereby an Executive President, being both Head of State and Head of the Government is elected at national elections held every five years.
Legislative power is vested in a unicameral Parliament, which consists of the President and the National Assembly (Article 51).
The National Assembly is composed of sixty-five members elected by the citizens at elections held every five years. Elections are held under a system of proportional representation and the electorate vote for a political party. The presidential candidate for the party with the most votes becomes the president.
Laws are passed by simple majority and assented to by the President.
The Constitution is the Supreme Law of Guyana and any law inconsistent with it shall be void (Article 65(2)).
Amendments to the Constitution can passed by a majority of all elected members of Parliament, or by a two-thirds majority for amendments concerning provisions listed in Article 165(2).
The President has the power to adjourn the session of the Parliament, as well as to dissolve the Parliament (Article 70 of the Constitution).
The Executive authority
The executive authority is vested in the President (Article 99).
The President is the Head of State, the supreme executive authority and Commander-in-Chief of the army (Article 89).
The President is elected at the same time as the National Assembly. He or she is the Presidential candidate on the list of the party that acquires most votes during the parliamentary elections.
The President appoints an elected member of the National Assembly to be the Prime Minister, who is his or her principal assistant in the discharge of the executive functions. The President may also appoint Vice-Presidents, who thereby become Ministers of the Government.
The President is assisted in the general direction and control of the Government task, by a Cabinet composed of the Prime Minister, the Vice-Presidents and any other Minister appointed to the Cabinet by the President. The Cabinet is collectively responsible to Parliament (Article 106).
The Constitution of Guyana expressly states, in Article 123 (1), that:
“There shall be for Guyana a Supreme Court of Judicature consisting of a Court of Appeal and a High Court, with such jurisdiction and powers as are conferred on those Courts respectively by this Constitution or any other law”.
The Chancellor and the Chief Justice are appointed by the President, acting after obtaining the agreement of the Leader of the Opposition.
The Judges, other than the Chancellor and the Chief Justice, are appointed by the President, acting in accordance with the advice of the Judicial Service Commission.
The Judiciary is comprised of three arms: the Magistrates' Court, the High Court and the Court of Appeal.
The Magistrates Court
The Magistrates' Court is the most inferior and has limited civil and criminal jurisdiction. It is, in fact, a Court of summary jurisdiction since it does not deal with indictable matters, except to conduct preliminary enquiries.
The Chancellor is in charge of the administration of the Judicial system and the appointments of Magistrates are made by the Judicial Service Commission.
Magistrates are created by law, and as such, their powers are conferred solely by legislation. This may be distinguished from Judges of the High Court who have an inherent jurisdiction. Only claims below $50,000.00 may be instituted in the Magistrates' Court. The rules of procedure and the constitution of the Magistrates' Court are defined in the Summary Jurisdiction (Magistrates) Act, Chapter 3:05 of the Laws of Guyana
The High Court
The jurisdiction of the High Court is set out in the High Court Act, Chapter 3:02 of the Laws of Guyana.
The High Court consists of the Chief Justice, who is the President of the Court, and any number of puisne judges.
The Chief Justice is the administrative head of the High Court.
There are several Courts within the High Court such as the Criminal Court, the Civil Court, Divorce Court, Bail Court, Land Court and the full court of the High Court.
There is also the Probate Jurisdiction of the High Court which deals with the administration of the estates of deceased persons.
The jurisdiction of a judge of the High Court is described in section 18 of the High Court Act, as follows:-
“Subject to any written law, every action and proceeding.....shall, so far as is practicable and convenient, be heard, determined and disposed of before a single judge....”
Section 18 (2) provides that “..... a single judge shall be vested with and may exercise the whole of the original jurisdiction of the Court.”
The Civil Court only deals with claims for amounts in excess of $50,000.00.
The criminal jurisdiction of the court is set out in Section 19 of the High Court Act as follows:-
“The criminal jurisdiction vested by this Act...shall....be exercised by a single judge sitting with a jury, or by a single sitting apart or in chambers, as the case may require.”
The High Court also has the jurisdiction to deal with matrimonial matters such as divorces, adoptions and custody applications.
The Bail Court is a court of summary judgment and is intended to be a speedy court. The summary judgment procedure is appropriate for obtaining judgment against a defendant who has no arguable defence to a claim.
Summary judgment is given mainly in debt actions where the defendant clearly has no defence or where there is a convent to judgment. The rules governing the proceedings in Bail Court are outlined in Order 12 of the Rules of the High Court, Chapter 3:02 of the Laws of Guyana.
The Full Court of the High Court: the High Court exercises an appellate jurisdiction in all cases in which, by law, an appeal lies to the Court from any decision of a Magistrate in the exercise of his or her jurisdiction or the judgment of a single Judge of the High Court.
The Full Court may be composed of not less than 2 judges of the High Court.
The Court of Appeal
The Court of Appeal is the highest Court in Guyana.
An appeal is an application to set aside or vary the decision of a Judge of the High Court on the ground that it was wrongly made.
The Court of Appeal is a “court of record” in that it does not hear afresh the oral testimony of witnesses but instead it reviews the case on the basis of the evidence contained in the record and may make such order as the case may require.
Significantly, Article 133 of the Guyana Constitution provides that an appeal to the Court of Appeal shall lie as of right from decisions of the High Court in the following cases:
- final decisions in any civil or criminal proceedings on the interpretation of the Constitution.
- final decisions given in exercise of the jurisdiction conferred on the High Court by Article 153 (which relates to fundamental rights and freedom).
In Guyana, there is no resort to further appeal - the decision of the Highest Court, the Court of Appeal, is final. However, it should be noted that Article 123 of the Constitution has recently been amended whereby Parliament may make such provisions as it deems fit authorizing any court established or to be established, as the final Court of Appeal for the Caribbean to be the final court of Appeal for Guyana.
There are two other Courts or tribunals within the system. They are the Coroners Court and the Rice Assessment Committee. By Order 31 of 1956 an Act was promulgated to provide for the better security of tenure for tenant rice farmers; to limit the rent payable for the letting of the rice lands, and for purposes connected with the matters aforesaid. This committee is presided over by a Chairman who normally shall be a magistrate, two persons who are landlords of rice lands and two persons who are tenants of rice lands together with one person who is an agricultural officer in the Ministry responsible for Agriculture. The Chairperson, however, need not be a qualified lawyer, but his or her appointment must be recommended to the Minister of Agriculture by the Judicial Service Commission. The other appointments are made by the Minister.
The Coroners Court is presided over by a qualified magistrate. His or her duties include the holding of inquests into causes of unnatural deaths of persons. He or she would sit with a jury of unequal numbers, not less than three. The findings of the jury are sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions for whatever action he or she shall deem appropriate.
The Coroners Jury Cannot find anyone guilty or not guilty.
Labour rights in the Constitution
The Constitution of the Co-operative Republic of Guyana is based on socialist principles, although the existence of privately owned economic enterprises, and the right to property are recognized.
Article 40 of the Constitution lays down a number of fundamental rights including the right to life, liberty, security of the person and the protection of the law, freedom of conscience, of expression and of assembly and association, protection of the privacy of ones home and property and from deprivation of property without compensation.
Pursuant to Article 22 of the Constitution, every citizen has the right to work and its free selection in accordance with social requirements and personal qualifications. He or she has the right to be rewarded according to the nature, quality and quantity of his work. Women and men have the right to equal pay for equal work.
The Constitution guarantees the right to rest, recreation and leisure.
Article 29 of the Constitution states that “women and men have equal rights and the same legal status in all spheres of political, economic and social life. All forms of discrimination against women on the basis of their sex is illegal”. In addition, the Constitution lists a number of women's rights, such as the access to academic, vocational and professional training, equal opportunities in employment, remuneration and promotion, paid leave for mothers and expectant mothers.
In accordance with Article 140 of the Constitution, no person shall be held in slavery or servitude, nor be required to perform forced labour.
Labour relations in Guyana are based on three sources:
- statutory laws i.e. Acts of Parliament;
- common law, derived from courts and British jurisprudence; and
- custom and practice, to be recognized a custom and practice must be well known, of long duration and must be reasonable.
There are a number of laws and regulations that make up what is referred to as the labour laws. In 1921 the Trade Unions Act was enacted to provide for the regulation and registration of trade unions. In 1942 the Labour Act, which provides for the establishment of the Department of Labour, for the regulation of the relationship between employers and employees and for the settlement of differences between them, was enacted.
There are a number of other laws that impact on employment relationship. Some of the more important Labour legislations are:
- The Recruiting of Workers Act, No. 9 of 1943;
- The Holidays with Pay Act, No. 3 of 1952. Repealed and re-enacted in 1995 No. 6 of 1995;
- The Wages Council Act, No. 51 of 1956;
- The Shops (Consolidation) Act, No. 33 of 1958;
- Accidental Deaths and Workmen's Injuries (Compensation) Act, No 21 of 1916;
- The Licensed Premises Act, No. 22 of 1944;
- The Bakeries (Hours of Work) Act No. 4 of 1946;
- The Public Utility Undertakings and Public Health Services Arbitration Act, No. 44 of 1956;
- Labour (Conditions of Employment of Certain Workers) Act, No. 5 of 1952. Repealed and re-enacted in 1978 by Act No. 18 of 1978;
- Employment of Young Persons and Children Act, No. 14 of 1938;
- Factories Act No. 30 of 1947. Repealed and re-enacted as the Occupational Safety and Health Act, No 32 of 1997;
- The Termination of Employment and Severance Pay Act, No. 19 of 1997;
- The Prevention of Discrimination Act, No. 24 of 1997;
- The Trade Union Recognition Act, No. 33 of 1997.
Most of the above legislations have been amended and updated from time to time.
Where disputes arise with respect to the interpretation of any law, the High Court of the Supreme Court of Judicature or, on appeal, the Guyana Court of Appeal, shall furnish such interpretation.
The laws sets out minimum conditions of service. Individual contracts of employment and collective agreements can stipulate higher benefits.
The reform of labour laws is ongoing. Presently government and the workers' and employers' organizations are discussing a draft Industrial Tribunal Bill.
Broad Outline of Labour Laws
The Labour Act allows for the apprehension of industrial disputes and sets out procedures for resolution of such disputes including arbitration. It allows for the appointment of advisory committees. It prohibits payment of wages in retail spirit shops. It empowers designated officers to enter any premises where labour is employed to inspect such premises whether by day or night to ensure compliance with regulations concerning wages, hours of work and other conditions of service. It directs that wages shall be paid in money only and that no employer shall impose as a condition of employment any terms as to the place at which or the manner in which, or the person with whom any wages are to be expended.
The Holidays with Pay Act sets out entitlement to annual holiday for workers employed on a monthly, weekly, daily or hourly basis.
The Wages Council Act provides for minimum rates of wages to be paid to certain categories of workers.
The Shops (Consolidation) Act sets out conditions for employment of shop assistants.
The Accidental Death and Workmen's Compensation Act sets out what should and should not be taken into account when awarding damages for industrial death or injury. It allows persons to sue for compensatory damages notwithstanding that they receive compensation from the state operated insurance scheme. In fact, no money received from any other source shall be taken into account when awarding damages.
The Licensed Premises Act and the Labour (Conditions of Employment of Certain Workers) Act sets out hours of work and other conditions of service for workers employed in hotels, spirit shops, restaurants, parlours and taverns.
The Employment of Young Persons and Children Act sets the minimum age for admission to employment and other conditions for employment of young persons and children.
The Termination of Employment and Severance Pay Act stipulates notice period, conditions to allow for redundancy and termination, need to consult with union prior to severing for redundancy, formula for redundancy benefits. It sets out reasons that do not constitute good or sufficient cause for dismissal or disciplinary action.
The Prevention of Discrimination Act provides for the elimination of discrimination in employment, training, recruitment and membership of professional bodies and the promotion of equal remuneration to men and women who perform work of equal value.
The Trade Union Recognition Act allows for the appointment of a tripartite board to certify unions as recognized majority unions.
The Occupational Safety and Health Act requires employers and employees to ensure a safe work environment and for the appointment of safety committees in workplaces.
Contract of employment
Permanent and fixed-term contracts
The majority of employees in Guyana are employed on contracts of employment of an indeterminate duration. Persons can be engaged also on fixed term or special contracts and employers are now making more use of this type of employment contract.
There are also contracts for service where persons are employed for specific tasks and are paid for actual work done.
A probationary period of three months is required by law unless the parties agree to a different period. A contract can be terminated by either party without notice during probation.
Suspension of the contract of employment
An employer is allowed to suspend an employee without pay as a form of disciplinary action when it is reasonable to do so having regard to the nature of the violation, the employee's duty, the nature of any damage incurred and the previous conduct of the employee.
No employer shall suspend or lay off an employee, except for disciplinary action, unless the employer is empowered to terminate for redundancy and any such lay off shall not exceed six weeks. The employer has no obligation to pay wages during the period of suspension or lay off.
Termination of the contract of employment
Grounds for termination
A contract of employment for an unspecified period of time may be terminated:
- by mutual consent of the parties;
- by redundancy;
- for good and sufficient cause;
- by notice given to or served upon the other party.
Where an employee who is warned in writing commits a similar offence within six months the employer can terminate without notice.
The notice period is two weeks where the employee has been employed for less than one year and one month when employed for more than one year. A notice of termination shall not be given by an employer during any period of an employee's absence on authorized leave.
The following reasons do not constitute good or sufficient cause for dismissal or disciplinary action:
- an employee's race, sex, religion, colour, ethnic origin, national extraction, political opinion, family responsibility and marital status;
- age subject to retirement law or agreement;
- pregnancy or reason connected with pregnancy;
- certified sick leave;
- compulsory military service.
Prior to terminating on grounds of redundancy an employer must consult the workers' representatives or recognized trade union and the Ministry of Labour.
Severance or redundancy payments must be paid when employees are terminated without just cause or made redundant. The minimum entitlement shall be equivalent to:
- one week's wages per year for the first five years;
- two weeks per year for the second five years; and
- three weeks for each year after the tenth year up to a maximum of fifty-two weeks.
Remedies in case of unjustified discipline or dismissal
Where a complaint has been made to the Ministry of Labour and the Ministry finds that a disciplinary action is unreasonable, such disciplinary action shall be withdrawn and any payment withheld shall be refunded.
Complaints of unfair dismissal shall be made to the High Court and if proved, the court shall award compensation.
Working time and rest time
Hours of work
The Minister of Labour is empowered to prescribe the number of hours to be worked in various occupations/industries. Where no hours are prescribed the hours are agreed upon by the parties or by collective agreements. For all industries deemed a factory the hours shall be eight hours per day unless otherwise prescribed.
Some prescribed hours are:
42 hours per week
40.75 hours per week
44 hours per week
Overtime and premium payment
For all hours worked in excess of the prescribed or agreed hours, payment shall be made at 1.5 times the basic hourly rate.
Employees working at work-sites deemed a factory shall be paid a premium for all hours worked on a Sunday or Public Holiday.
Employees are entitled to paid holidays after each six or twelve months. Minimum holidays set out in the Holidays with Pay Act are computed as follows:
- for those employed on a weekly, fortnightly or monthly basis - one day for every completed month of service;
- for daily paid employee - one day for every twenty days worked; and
- for hourly paid employees - one day for every one hundred and sixty hours worked.
On termination, workers holidays entitlements are pro-rated and they are paid in lieu of such holidays.
The Co-operative Republic of Guyana has the following public holidays:
New Year's day (1 January), Republic day (February 23), Phagwah, Good Friday, Easter Monday, Labour Day (1 May), CARICOM Day, Emancipation Day, Deepavali, Eid-ul-Azah, Youm-man-Nabi, Christmas Day (25 December), Boxing Day (26 December).
Employees are not normally paid for public holidays not worked but deductions are not made from wages of weekly or monthly paid employees.
Maternity leave and maternity protection
Women workers are protected during pregnancy and after childbirth from discrimination, disciplinary action or dismissal for her pregnancy or reasons connected with her pregnancy by the Constitution, the Termination of Employment and Severance Pay Act and the Prevention of Discrimination Act.
The National Insurance Act allows for thirteen weeks maternity leave, starting not earlier than six weeks before expected confinement. In exceptional cases a further thirteen weeks is permitted.
Maternity benefits paid is equivalent to 70% of the average insurable income. Collective Agreements usually provide for the employer to make up the difference.
Other leave entitlements
Collective Agreements allow for paid special leave for a number of reasons including trade union education, bereavement, sports, education and jury service.
Sick leave is not an entitlement but employees are allowed both certified and uncertified sick leave. Payment for sick leave is made by the National Insurance Scheme after the third day of illness. Most Collective Agreements require the employer to make up any shortfall.
Minimum age and protection of young workers
The statutory minimum age for employment is fifteen years.
Where any work is likely to jeopardize the health, safety and morals of young persons, the age of employment shall not be less than eighteen years.
The Prevention of Discrimination Act prohibits discrimination on the grounds of race, sex, religion, colour, ethnic origin, indigenous population, national extraction, social origin, economic status, political opinion, disability, family responsibilities, pregnancy, marital status or age except for purposes of retirement or employment of minors.
The above prohibition is applicable to the advertisement of the job, in determining who should be offered the job, in the terms and conditions offered, and in respect to promotion, transfer, training, retrenchment and dismissal.
Sexual harassment is defined as an unwanted conduct of a sexual nature in the workplace or in connection with the performance of work which is threatened or imposed as a condition of employment on the employee or which creates a hostile working environment for the employee.
Minimum wage rates are set through Minimum Wage Orders made under the Labour Act and Wages Council Act. There is not a national minimum wage, but rates are set for a number of occupations and industries. There is no difference in rates for male and female employees.
Where rates have not been fixed by minimum wage orders wages can be agreed upon by individual or collective agreement. Nothing prohibits the payment of higher rates than those fixed by minimum wage orders.
It is an offence for an employer to pay less than the prescribed or agreed rates.
Protection of wages
Except for lawful deductions an employee is entitled to recover the entire amount of wages earned and such wages shall be paid in money and not otherwise.
Workers' representation in the enterprise
The rules of the various trade unions set out the procedures for the election or selection of trade union and workers' delegates and representatives.
An employer shall not, with intent to dissuade or prevent a worker from becoming an officer, delegate or representative, threaten to dismiss, affect his or her employment adversely or alter his or her position.
Trade union regulation
The Trade Union Act, 1921, sets out the legal basis for trade unions. It allows any seven (or more) members to form a Trade Union. Other clauses sets out for:
- the need for unions to submit annual returns;
- the registration of unions;
- the cancellation of registrations;
- the protection against actions for conspiracy and tort; and
- audit of union's records.
An employee is free to join, or not to join, a trade union and can withdraw from membership and an employer shall not make the employment of a worker subject to the condition that he or she shall or shall not become a member of a trade union or shall relinquish membership.
There is no law on union security, but most Collective Labour Agreements contain provisions for union security and collection of union dues by check off.
The Trade Union Recognition Act, 1997 provides for a tripartite board to certify unions as recognized majority unions. The board is comprised of three workers and three employers representatives and a chairman appointed after consultation with both parties. To obtain certification a union must prove, whether by survey or poll, that it has 40% support within the bargaining unit.
The government has no veto powers over decisions of the board.
Collective Bargaining and Agreements
The Labour Act, as amended by Act No. 9 of 1984, defines collective agreement as an agreement or arrangement made by or on behalf of one or more organization of employees and one or more employers or organizations of employers. Such agreement should prescribe the terms and conditions of employment and procedures for negotiation or arbitration of terms and conditions of employment and for resolution of grievances.
A collective agreement is legally enforceable unless the parties state in the agreement that whole or part of it is not intended to be legally enforceable.
A copy of every collective agreement shall be presented to the Ministry of Labour.
Collective bargaining can occur at industry or national level.
Agreements may contain any matter agreed to by the parties, provided it is not contrary to any law or International Labour Organisation Conventions.
Most agreements provide for arbitration to be the final step in the negotiation process. The Minister can also refer matters to arbitration if either or both parties refuse to put the grievance to arbitration and the difference is deemed injurious to the national interest.
The Trade Union Recognition Act requires that where a trade union obtains a certificate of recognition for a bargaining unit, the employer shall recognize the union, and the parties shall bargain in good faith for the purpose of collective bargaining.
A collective agreement is binding on every employee within the bargaining unit whether that employee is, or isn't, a member of the trade union.
Strikes and lock-outs
There is no law on protection of workers during industrial action.
However, an employee's participation in industrial action in conformity with the provisions of any law or collective agreement does not constitute good or sufficient cause for dismissal.
Most collective agreements provide for a period of notice to be given to the employer prior to industrial action.
Strikes can be called by union executives or shop stewards.
It is accepted that the grievance procedure including conciliation/mediation would have been adhered to prior to strike action.
The Public Utility Undertakings and Public Health Services Arbitration Act deals specifically with essential services. There is a standing tribunal established under this Act. The act carries a schedule of services deemed essential services. Employees in essential services can strike if they advise the Minister of Labour of the existence of a grievance and the Minister, within a period of one month, failed to put machinery in place for the resolution of the dispute.
Settlement of individual labour disputes
There are specially trained officers within the Ministry of Labour who are empowered to investigate individual labour disputes. Officers are empowered to prosecute employers before the courts of law for failure to resolve a dispute. There is no labour court.
Persons aggrieved by the actions of an employer can approach the courts directly through a civil suit.