The salary negotiations and the strike action are two separate and distinct issues

Dear Editor,

The Guyana Teachers Union (GTU) and the Ministry of Education met on Wednesday August 29th, 2018 under the chairmanship of the Chief Labour Officer where the Union expressly stated, in a memorandum submitted, its acceptance of the invitation which must be seen as an act of courtesy.

The insistence by the GTU that the issue of increase salary and better working conditions must be referred to arbitration, based on its position that it has lost confidence in the Labour Department and the Ministry of Social Protection to perform conciliatory duties that are just and fair, cannot be ignored. 

The GTU made it clear that the Ministry and Labour Department were part of the employer’s delegation, advocating on the employer’s behalf at two meetings prior to the strike action. This was never denied by the Labour Department or Ministry. In fact, the GTU said the Labour Department accepted this at the Wednesday meeting.

The utterances emanating from the Labour Department that seek to paint the Union as being duplicitous, by saying the GTU wants to go to arbitration but not conciliation given their presence at Wednesday’s meeting, ignored from the outset that the Union informed its presence was an act of courtesy.

There seems to be a clear misunderstanding, on the part of all the government agencies, as to the complexity of the impasse. There are two issues existing at this time. One, is the negotiation for salary increases  and better working conditions; and two, the strike action that commenced on Monday, August 27th 2018. While the two issues are linked, they are separate and distinct, and must be treated as such.

In the discharging of effective industrial relations practice the issue that first has to be addressed is the strike action with a view of returning the industrial relations atmosphere to a normal climate. As such the Union’s presentation on Wednesday, which focused on Terms of Resumption, to bring the strike to an end takes precedence over arguing about salary and working conditions. Issue number two, is that of finding a resolution on salary and working conditions that is binding on both parties, and this can only be done through the arbitration process.

The Labour Department failed to recognise the two issues, while linked, are separate and have to be treated with separately. This department is urged to discuss the issue of Terms of Resumption with the parties (Ministry of Education and GTU) with a view of getting the teachers back into their classrooms for the new school year. 

It is obvious that the GTU has not expressed any reservation as it relates to the Labour Department conciliating in bringing the strike to an end. What the GTU objected to is the Department’s involvement in conciliating in the issue of salary and working conditions since the Department has already taken a side in advocating for the employer.

What the teachers have done is placed the ball in the employer’s court. And whereas it is noted the Chief Education Officer’s statement that he wants the children in the classrooms come Monday, it’s his and the Ministry of Education’s call to abide by universal acceptable industrial relations principles and practices that the Union is seeking respect for.

If this strike goes on until Monday, parents and students must know clearly at whose feet the blame lies for not getting the children in the classrooms. The Union has already signalled it is prepared to be called at any time of the day to bring about normalcy so that teachers can be at the gates and doors of the schools to welcome and continue the process of moulding the children’s minds to be good and productive stewards of society.  To ignore the teachers’ civility to bring resolution is to ignore the welfare and wellbeing of our children and the future development of this society.

Yours faithfully,

Lincoln Lewis

General Secretary

Guyana Trades Union Congress

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