GUYANA | Government Constructively Engineered Teachers’ Strike

GUYANA | Government Constructively Engineered Teachers’ Strike

GEORGETOWN,  Guyana, March 15, 2024 - The struggle that threatens teachers threatens all workers and risks creating precedence that can change the face of the trade unions and workers’ rights wider afield. Our sister federated body, FITUG (GAWU, GLU, NAACIE) must take note for they are not exempt from its impact.

The strike action of the teachers was greeted with condemnation by the government. Notably none other than President Irfaan Ali, Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo, Attorney General Anil Nandlall and the Minister of Education Priya Manickchand sought to wilfully mislead the nation by misrepresenting the action taken by the teachers.

We witnessed how the Government sought immediately to declare the strike action as illegal, and to order the teachers back to work even as it was, they who failed to engage the Guyana Teachers Union (GTU) thus causing the strike issue.  It is clear the positions they took against the GTU was intended at “union busting” as they willfully misrepresented both the issue and the process that led to the strike.

The regime wanted to malign the teachers and for parents and the nation to ignore their role.  The irrefutable fact still stands that the strike was started as a result of the Ministry of Education’s refusal to negotiate a Collective Labour Agreement (CLA) and the refusal of the Ministry of Labour to facilitate requests from the union for conciliation and arbitration.

Teachers’ right to negotiate consistent with the grievance procedure makes provision for either party (employer or union) to seek conciliation and/or arbitration.  Further, the government cannot determine the teachers response when their designated Ministers failed to act in good faith.

It is the government’s actions and/or inactions that forced the teachers to act consistent with the grievance procedure. It is further true to say that the Alli/Jagdeo regime has failed to demonstrate good will and promote an industrial environment that would be conducive for negotiations, thus forcing the teachers into action.

Government constructively engineered this strike action and were willful and predetermined to deny workers of Guyana and the teachers in particular their right to negotiate for better conditions of work.

These force one to conclude there must be some nefarious political agenda as government is setting a tone to undermine collective bargaining for teachers. Such actions are serious and not without implications for the labour movement in Guyana.

Whereas some may feel they can ignore these actions they do so at their own peril, for they too will be affected. Every single worker will be affected if this government is allowed to have its own way dismantling time-honoured principles, customs, rules and practices as well as ignoring rights and the rule of law.

Workers and members of the public must therefore understand the issues at hand and resist this oppression by the People’s Progressive Party (PPP). We must understand that the “No strike” clause in the CLA is being used wrongly without clear understanding of the rationale, the spirit and intent behind that clause.  It must be taken into consideration that it is linked to and cannot be separated from the grievance procedure in the CLA.

Prior to nationalisation in the CLA there was a strike clause which allowed for 24-72 hours’ notice before strike. Both parties had to agree to take a matter to arbitration for resolution when negotiations fell down on any issue. Post nationalisation, both Guybau and the bauxite union agreed in their collective bargaining that in order to minimise strike actions, there will be no strikes, no lock out, and arbitration would be voluntary. This set the tone for the grievance procedure to include voluntary arbitration.

Voluntary arbitration means whichever party applies for arbitration the other will have to automatically comply.  The no strike, no lock out clause was conditioned on the union not being forced to call a strike in order to acquire arbitration proceedings as was the norm at the time.

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