The government and the GTU are to resume discussions today in a bid to end the teachers’ strike that has upturned the new school year since Monday and yesterday the umbrella trade union grouping, GTUC accused the APNU+AFC administration of creating an environment of conflict and not negotiating in good faith.
Among the first matters likely to be addressed at today’s meeting would be the Guyana Teachers’ Union’s (GTU’s) view that the Labour Department of the Ministry of Social Protection cannot perform the conciliation function and that the deadlock between the two sides should move immediately to arbitration which would then settle the dispute and be binding on both sides.
Yesterday’s invitation to the GTU announcing the resumption of a meeting that was adjourned from August 30th was signed by Charles Ogle, Chief Labour Officer. It gave no indication of the agenda. The meeting is set for 1.30 pm in the boardroom of the Labour Department, Ministry of Social Protection.
Hundreds of school teachers across the country have struck in support of their union’s wage demands. The government has meanwhile mobilized trainee teachers and volunteers to fill the gaps but it appears that many classes have been disrupted and some schools do not have teachers teaching at all. Teachers continued their protest action yesterday in all parts of the country. (See other story on page 15.)
Yesterday, the Guyana Trades Union (GTUC) levelled a sharp attack on the government, blaming it for the standoff with teachers.
“Instead of working with labour there seems to be determined effort to marginalise and miniaturise the role of labour. This makes workers vulnerable to the political class, uncaring employers and their dictates. GTUC is satisfied that our teachers’ struggle is right and just. Their struggle is in tandem with the forerunners of the GTU and the trade union movement who earlier shaped much of the freedoms and benefits we enjoy today.
“GTUC is conscious that the stubbornness on the government’s part not to engage the union affects students as well as their parents/guardians and has the potential to disrupt other services in society. This is because the education system also plays a custodial role for our children and many families are able to engage in meaningful employment as their children attend school. Government must be similarly aware and must demonstrate that they care for our nation’s children, their parents and those services that are likely to suffer collateral damage as a result. Government must take full responsibility for creating an environment of conflict and hostility with our hardworking and long suffering teachers.
“GTUC notes with concern and disappointment government’s earlier attempt to resolve the impasse by first ordering the teachers back to the negotiation table. At a meeting called on 30th August, 2018 teachers made their demand known for arbitration, having lost confidence in the Labour Department to conciliate in a fair and just manner. This was further exacerbated by Minister Keith Scott’s derogation of teachers, which he subsequently apologised for. In the most recent development the Labour Department has issued a letter, inviting the GTU and Ministry of Education, to meet on Thursday, 6th September without a stated agenda or reference to the teachers’ demand for arbitration.
“From all observations government does not appear willing to negotiate in good faith. Even before the strike was started government telegraphed its value and respect for teachers by declaring its intent to employ scab labour. The use of this is an attempt to weaken the strike while ignoring the option of negotiating in good faith. The Minister of Education said this form of labour is being offered the benefit of $1000 to top up their cellphones, a consideration that was never given the teachers.
“GTUC stands in support of GTU’s call for arbitration and calls on the support of the wider society in helping teachers in their just struggle”, the trade union body declared.
The GTUC said that it was concerned at the hardening of attitudes that can prolong a strike that should never have happened in the first place.
Noting the almost three-year impasse between the two sides, the GTUC said that the nation has seen government talking past the teachers and not with the teachers.
“There is a culture being developed over recent time where some ministers/government seem not to desire consultation or communication with established organisations that have constitutional roles. Strong perceptions are held that they want to determine who must lead these organisations, how they must conduct themselves, who or what issues they must represent, and who they must associate with. Article 147 of the Guyana Constitution protects the right to strike and freedom of association”, the GTUC declared.
It said that the average teacher is performing above and beyond duty with the expectation that government will engage their leaders.
Meanwhile, the main sugar union, GAWU yesterday declared its solidarity with the teachers.
GAWU said that at its one-day conference on Tuesday on the sugar industry, it also reflected on the strike action taken by the teachers at this time and approved a resolution calling upon the Government to “consider meeting the just demands of the teachers in an effort at ending the strike or alternatively agree to take the dispute to arbitration”.
Moving the resolution was FITUG’s President, Carvil Duncan and it was seconded by GTUC General Secretary, Lincoln Lewis and was fully endorsed by the Conference.
“The GAWU also wishes to express its full solidarity and support with our nation’s teachers who are more than justified in their demands. They, like all workers and Guyanese, are only seeking to live a comfortable and fulfilling life where they can afford the basic necessities”, the statement said.