The Guyana Teachers’ Union (GTU) has asked Dr. Leyland Lucas to recuse himself from a process which is “not in accordance with industrial relations practices, laws and time-honoured principles” but the academic has not responded to their request.
Lucas was arbitrarily selected by Minister in the Ministry of Social Protec-tion Keith Scott to Chair the Arbitration Panel on the wage dispute between the union and the Ministry of Education (MoE). Having rejected Lucas based on Scott’s attempt to impose him on the union, GTU General Secretary Coretta McDonald asked that he recuse himself. When Stabroek News reached out to Lucas, the Head of the University of Guyana’s School of Entrepreneurship and Business Innovation (SEBI) he said he had “no comment on the matter”
The union has threatened that if within seven days they and the MoE cannot reach a consensus on a chair then its members will return to the street while the Ministry has countered with a threat of legal action against teachers who engage in strike action.
A letter originating from the secretariat of the Minister of Education informed teachers that the 1983 Memorandum of Agreement –The Avoidance and Settlement of Disputes provides that “during the consideration of the matter in dispute under the grievance procedure, there shall be no strike, stoppage of work whether of a partial or general nature, go slow, boycott, picketing, retardation of production or any other interference with the Ministry’s operations by the Union, nor shall there be any lock out or any other form of interference by the Ministry. Both parties shall endeavour to maintain a state of normal Industrial Relations.”
Consequently the Minis-try has “kindly advised” teachers to have due regard to the legal stipulation and note that any action which violates or is adverse to the stipulation shall be illegal for which the Ministry will ensure that the appropriate consequences ensue.
McDonald has however scoffed at the threat and declared that legal advice sought by the union has once again shown the Ministry’s interpretation to be inaccurate.
“We have reached out to our teachers to let them know that the document has no value. It is issued from the secretariat of the minister who has no right to issue instructions to teachers; that right lies with the Chief Education Officer. Further we have not started the process of arbitration. I have no idea who is advising them but they are intentionally mixing the document to confuse teachers but our teachers won’t be carried away by foolishness. They can read and read in context and they know when they see trash to ignore it,” McDonald said.
The General Secretary contends that the quoted section only comes into force once arbitration begins but the two parties have not even completed terms of reference much less begun the arbitration process.
“We have given them seven days which will end next Tuesday and we anticipate that once the call goes out teachers will once again respond in numbers,” she noted.
Meanwhile both The Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Guyana (FITUG) and the Guyana Trade Union Congress (GTUC) have expressed support for the GTU’s position.
According to FITUG, Scott has misinterpreted his role and caused serious damage.
“For us it is completely dismaying and utterly reprehensible that the Ministry which is charged with upholding workers’ rights and conditions has shed all pretenses and exposed, glaringly, its partiality in this matter. The Minister, from our point of view, is far removed from his boundary and has gotten himself in uncharted waters from which he has, in our view, no justification to enter. It seems clearly that he has misunderstood his role and is causing serious damage in its wake,” they said in a statement yesterday.
The umbrella body further notes that the entire episode has undoubtedly left a bitter taste in the mouths of the teachers, in fact all workers which is not in the interest of the country.
“It seems, the workers can no longer count on the Labour Department as an ally. For the Department, this is a disappointing turn of events especially when we take into account its proud past of standing with workers to ensure that they are respected. The reversal of sorts is yet another clear demonstration of the Administration’s dim regard for the country’s working-people,” it noted before calling on President David Granger to give serious consideration as to whether he wants to continue to have Minister Scott as his front man on this issue in light of the serious damage his actions have done to the credibility of the Department of which he is the political head.
Meanwhile, the GTUC has accused Scott of embarrassing the country and threatening the realisation of a stable industrial relations environment.
The GTUC argued that Scott’s appointment of Lucas has no basis in the Laws of Guyana unless such law – which the Minister must produce – was passed in the dead of night and assented to before the nation awoke.
“The trade union community knows not of its existence,” the GTUC stressed adding that Scott continues to act in bad faith, further sullying the industrial relations environment.
“His misapplication of Section 4 of the Labour Act, Ch. 98:01, which stipulates a ministerial role in Compulsory Arbitration has no bearing on the GTU and MoE’s case for both parties have consented under the Collective Bargaining process to proceed to Arbitration,” the statement noted before pointing out that Scott has failed to take a similar stance to resolve the nine-year old grievances affecting workers at the Bauxite Company of Guyana Incorporated (BCGI) in which instance he continues to feign ignorance and claim impotency to act.
GTUC further argues that what Minister Scott is seeking to do is disregard the time-honoured good faith practice, agreed, written and signed to by the GTU and MoE on 6th September 2018.
The extant agreement expressly states, “A chairperson [be] agreed to by the employer and the GTU.” The 1990 GTU and MoE Memorandum of Understanding stipulated that where there isn’t agreement between the parties on an arbitration chair, the Ministry of Labour will be asked to “nominate” one. A nomination is not tantamount to an appointment a difference the Minister must recognise and respect.
Further stressing that “the Minister set out to deceive, irrespective that his action will besmirch Dr. Lucas’ image, via association in an illegal act”, the GTUC has called on Scott to publicly apologise to Dr. Lucas for the international embarrassment he has inflicted on him.