The two trade union groupings yesterday condemned Minister in the Ministry of Social Protection, Keith Scott for labelling striking teachers as “selfish and uncaring” and the GTUC called on President David Granger to discipline him.
Scott’s statement at a bursary award ceremony on Friday and reported in the last Sunday Stabroek has evoked widespread condemnation particularly on social media and yesterday both the Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC) and the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Guyana (FITUG) piled pressure on the government to act against the minister who is meant to have a conciliatory role in the labour dispute between the teachers and the government.
Noting that Scott has political responsibility for the Labour Department that should be conciliating in grievances between employers and employees, the GTUC said this requires a high degree of impartiality.
“Minister Scott seems to have a penchant for crass conduct. This is not the first time the trade union community had cause to draw attention to and condemn same, the last most contentious being in December 2016 in the National Assembly during the debates on the National Budget. The tendency to say whatever comes to his mouth, regardless of the impact, and irrespective of his role as the political voice of the Government on issues pertaining to Labour, is of concern”, the GTUC declared.
It said there is concern as to whether he is verbalizing what is privately being said or felt about workers behind closed doors by members of the government.
“Are these utterances sanctioned? GTUC would like to know if Minister Scott’s position represents the thinking of the Government. If not, there needs to be public distancing of the minister’s view”, the umbrella union body said.
“Can this nation remember any minister of government use such language to describe workers, particularly the teachers whose lives we entrust the care, safety and future of our children? At all times ministers are expected to conduct themselves with a higher degree of decorum. The use of language is disgusting and more suggestive of being hostile towards labour, not an environment where labour disputes can be genuinely addressed. GTUC (calls) on President David Granger to sanction the Minister’s behaviour and senior Minister of Social Protection Amna Ally to demonstrate the kind of care and compassion our teachers deserve, not to be insulted and called derogatory language”, the GTUC said.
The union body said that during the three-year period of seeking to achieve an Agreement with the Ministry of Education the teachers have conducted themselves with class and dignity and only proceeded on strike action based on government’s refusal to engage them on the Report of the Task Force which had been orchestrated by the government and whose Report was submitted since February.
“So to declare the teachers’ resort to legitimate recourse, having exhausted the process by calling them `selfish and uncaring’ brings into question if the sentiment is well directed. Also, it’s evident the Minister could not have been conducting the negotiation between the Ministry of Education and (the) Union in good faith.
“GTUC have no confidence the Minister can conciliate in the matter because of his open bias and hostility against the workers and their Union. The Minister’s utterances has justified the call by the GTU that the issue of salary and working conditions be addressed by an arbitration panel for he has disqualified himself to be an impartial facilitator in the conciliation process”, the GTUC declared.
The GTUC said it has also noted the ratcheting up of the anti-teacher sentiment from known supporters of the coalition government and the personal attacks on the GTU leaders where they are being accused of taking industrial action that is political even though they have historically taken similar actions under successive PNC and PPP/C administrations.
“The environment being created by these persons suggest democracy is not welcomed, should not be advanced, and is of no interest to some of us. Those who are doing this must remember how it felt under different government. GTUC (calls) on society to grow up and have respect for procedures, fundamental right and freedoms, and the Rule of Law”, the statement said.
For its part, FITUG said that Scott’s statement was a clear demonstration of the Administration’s lack of concern for the workers’ plight.
“The FITUG contends that our nation’s teachers have more than been considerate and sought, at all possible opportunities, to rationally settle their concerns with the Government. For their best efforts they have been strung along with promise after promise remaining unfulfilled. Certainly, the efforts of the teachers and their Union must have, among other things, been related to their concern for our nation’s children. Of course the onerous situation could continue for so long and now the time has reached when the straw has broken the proverbial camel’s overburdened back.
“The teachers demand for improvements in their pay and conditions of work is not without justification. FITUG, as it pointed out on several occasions, is of the strong view that our nation’s workers are more than deserving of improvements in their rates-of-pay recognizing the hard and difficult times they have found themselves in”, FITUG said.
It added “In our view, no credible justification can be advanced for the Minister’s statements. It is completely uncalled for and should have never been uttered in the first place. Moreover coming from the Minister responsible for labour in our country, serves to undermine the confidence the workers would repose in his leadership and casts a dark shadow on his impartiality of the Department he leads. The FITUG urges that the Minister should immediately apologise for what could only be described as a despicable statement. We also believe that His Excellency President David Granger should give serious consideration and profound thought as to whether Minister Scott is best suited to be the political head of the Department of Labour”.