Teachers wage dispute should move directly to arbitration

Dear Editor,

One simply could not help reflecting on the wanton comment, by the Ministry of Education to the effect that increases granted to Guyana Teachers’ Union would be (automatically) applied to Public Servants!

The cavalier approach to addressing the chronic situation engulfing teachers’ salaries, as well as other employment conditions, portray the principal actors as under-informed newcomers to the industrial relations stage.

The descriptor ‘under-informed’ relates to the following context in which the principles and practice of industrial relations should be conducted:

–              Caricom’s declaration of Labour and Industrial Relations

–              ILO International Labour Code, comprising of its Conventions and 

                Recommendations

–              Trade Union Recognition Act of 1997, and related labour legislation; not to

                mention

–              The Constitution of Guyana

But the above apart, in the case of the current (negative) interactions with the Guyana Teachers’ Union, certainly commonsense must advise that whoever agencies are part of Government’s negotiating team, cannot possibly arrogate to themselves the status of conciliator. It is at least a palpable declaration of arrogance, which must have been embarrassing to their colleagues. There could be no argument but that the stage of Conciliation is not applicable in this instance. It is for the relevant Agency (which refuses to be identified as a Ministry of Labour) to understand its legal responsibility to arrange for the institution of the Arbitration process.

In the meantime, it would be generally helpful if the employer representatives should retreat to some useful advice about the treatment of Government employees using the GPSU members as an example – found in the Report of the Commission of Inquiry into the Public Service – May 2016.

The point to be made here is about TRUST. The more important message lies not in what one says, but (more critically) in one’s behaviour – the old adage: ‘(in-) action speaks louder than words’.

The following is a short sampling of Recommendations by the aforementioned Commission which was appointed in August 2015.

1)  “We recommend the enactment and promulgation of a Public Service Law with related Regulations to promote the effective management and administration of the Public Service and insulate and protect it from irregular and undesirable influences, thereby enhancing its status and productive capacity.”

9)   “That the Constitution and other applicable laws be appropriately amended to empower the Public Service Commis-sion (PSC) to appoint Permanent Secre-taries and Regional Executive Officers.”

10)  “That all appointments to Public Service positions be by open internal and external competitions to obtain the best from the labour market.”

11)   “That all appointments by the PSC be on the basis of merit and be free from political influences, and meet the essential qualifications and requirement for the jobs to be performed.”

15)  “That no Public Servant who retires before attaining the age of 65 years should be employed on contract in view of the proposed age of retirement on attaining 65 years of age.”

(to be read in conjunction with

64)  “That the retirement age for new entrants into the Public Service, and those currently in the Public Service who are below 50 years of age, be retired on attaining 65 years of age, with the option of retiring on attaining 60 years;”)

23)   “That an Organizational Restruc-turing be undertaken in two Phases. In the First Phase emphasis should be placed on rationalizing the status of pensionable and contract employees and the ‘de-bunching’ of employees in the Salary Structure.”

24)   “That the Second Phase continue the restructuring process by way of a thoroughly conducted job evaluation study.”

44)   “That the Second Phase of the restructuring process be conducted using the following steps:

Establish a Job Evaluation Committee that can be used to identify and select key jobs across the Public Service for a Salary Survey. This is particularly important since these jobs should represent jobs that are common across the Public Service with responsibilities and duties that are recognized and understood.”

58)  “That disputes in wages and salaries resulting in an impasse at negotiations and at conciliation should be referred to a new final mechanism of a Public Service Wages and Salaries Commission which would be required to make recommendations to the National Assembly within a set time frame.”

59)   “That the Labour Act, Chapter 98:01, Section 4, be amended after consultation with the GPSU, to make such effective provisions for the establishment by the Minister, of a Wages and Salaries Commission to review wages and salaries disputes upon an impasse at conciliation, and to make recommendations to the National Assembly.”

73)  “That the Department of the Public Service and the Public Service Commission be constituted with professional personnel with integrity to rebuild public trust and confidence in the Public Service.”

It would therefore be useful to be advised how many above of the grand total of 89 Recommendations have been implemented, when, and with what effect.

To be consistent, surely the above recommendations should be used as guidelines for the treatment of teachers, if the treatment of their salaries, for example, is to be applied by the Minister equally to Public Servants.

Yours faithfully

E.B. John  

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