There is a disturbing comment attributed to President David Granger in the article headlined, “Union’s concerns for joint review – Granger ‘astonished’ at new matters raised” (SN, 11/10/2018). It is accordingly reported that on the Guyana Teachers’ Union and Ministry of Education present engagement in addressing their grievances, the President said, “The ministry and the GTU…had already gone past conciliation and arbitration and they were at the stage of settlement.”
Settlement comes about as a result of conciliation or arbitration which represents part of the procedure in solving grievances. The comment attributed to the President does not represent the processes in dealing with employees and employers’ grievances. If the process is not understood and we do not get it right, the nation will continue to witness a hostile industrial relations climate and disgruntled workers, neither of which augurs well for social cohesion, productivity and development.
Conciliation precedes arbitration. It occurs when the parties, who are the employer and workers’ representative, fail to arrive at agreement in a bilateral process. Conciliation can be requested from the Department of Labour by either party. When conciliation fails to bring about a settlement, either party can request arbitration, which would be considered moving towards Voluntary Arbitration; or arbitration can be imposed when either party is unwilling to follow the voluntary route, in the form of Compulsory Arbitration.
Let it be made very clear, in the case of the Teachers’ Union and Ministry of Education, the arbitration is of a voluntary nature, based on the agreement signed by the two parties, and the processes that guide Voluntary Arbitration must be respected throughout. Arbitration is the last stage in the grievance procedure and the outcome is legal, final and binding on both parties.
In the meantime, whatever initiative President Granger takes to finding a resolution, though encouraging, is outside of the grievance procedures and cannot be seen as an act of displacing conciliation and arbitration. In other words, the President’s action cannot supersede the industrial relations procedure and legally binding agreement between the parties to settle their dispute through arbitration.
To this end, the President’s advisors have a duty to inform him, that notwithstanding his effort, the issue of the establishment of an Arbitration Tribunal to bring about resolution is still on the table. In other words, if President Granger’s effort fails to bring about resolution to the matter, arbitration proceedings will have to resolve the differences.
This nation is treading in unchartered and dangerous waters in the handling of the teachers’ grievances. There is evident deficiency in the government’s opinion as to what industrial relations is all about. Industrial relations is a discipline. It is not guided by gut feelings and the notion that once one can speak around any issue affecting workers, makes that person competent in the field to deal with its complex nature.
Not only teachers are paying attention to this issue but also trade unionists, practicing or otherwise, private sector operatives, and international institutions like the International Labour Organisation. This nation has a duty to get it right. Getting it right means operating consistent with established industrial relations principles and practices.