– GTU says arbitration will end strike; Ministry insists on conciliation process
The Guyana Teachers’ Union [GTU] is prepared to bring an end to its ongoing strike action if the Ministry of Education agrees to arbitration. This is in spite of the Education Ministry’s insistence on a process of conciliation spearheaded by the Labour Department of the Ministry of Social Protection.
Moreover, an impasse was the outcome of a meeting called by the Labour Department yesterday between the Education Ministry and the GTU. The Education Ministry had last week written to the Social Protection Ministry asking that it exercise its powers of conciliation in the face of the union’s threat of strike action. However, because of prior commitments, the union was unable to attend two previous conciliation meetings called by the Labour Department.
However, the union, in keeping with the law, decided to avail itself to yesterday’s meeting called by the Social Protection Ministry, despite its conviction that conciliation was not possible at this stage.
Following the meeting held at the Ministry’s Brickdam, Georgetown office, GTU President, Mr. Mark Lyte, said the union is bent on arbitration since “we are insisting that the conciliation process has been compromised which, to some extent, has been admitted to by the Labour Department…the conciliators ought to be coming from the Ministry of Social Protection, but they would have compromised that position by being at two meetings that were held for negotiations.”
According to Lyte, once the Education Ministry agrees to the GTU’s arbitration terms, moves will be made to immediately halt ongoing strike action, which has already seen teachers from across the country staying away from pre-term activities.
Insisting that they are committed to a stable industrial relations climate and desire the return of normalcy, the GTU contingent led by Lyte turned up at yesterday’s meeting armed with terms for the way forward.
Among the terms detailed in a proposal presented by the union is that the Education Ministry and the Labour Department consider referring the existing impasse to an arbitration panel comprising three persons. The three persons, according to Lyte, should be a nominee each from the Education Ministry and the Union and a chairperson agreed upon by both sides.
Once the Ministry is receptive of the union’s arbitration proposition, the union has demanded that: “there shall be no victimisation by either party; there shall be no loss of pay and seniority; the chairmanship of the arbitration panel be agreed upon before the resumption of work; and that the status quo ante be respected by everyone involved…”
The GTU president anticipates that the process of arbitration will not exceed two months.
“The ball is in their court,” Lyte said of the Ministry of Education adding, “if they call us midnight tonight we will be ready.”
Once the Ministry accepts arbitration as the path to a resolution, Lyte committed to having teachers back at school on Monday, the first day of the new school year.
Officials from the Ministry were not prepared to disclose their position yesterday, but insisted that a release will be sent out to the media. Lyte however quipped, “I believe that they will now go back to their principals and they will decide on our proposed position and return to us with a definite answer.”
Even before the evident stalemate was officially announced yesterday, the meeting was halted and representatives of the union and the Ministry of Education were asked to step outside by those representing the Labour Department. This might have been owing to the fact, Lyte speculated, that “…a clear position was not brought to the table [by the Education Ministry] initially, hence we were asked to step out for them to decide who was leading the team.”
In a subsequent statement issued by the Social Protection Ministry, it was noted that the Conciliation meeting which was conducted under the Chairmanship of the Chief Labour Officer, Mr. Charles Ogle, was adjourned until further notice.
The statement outlined that at the meeting, “the GTU maintained that it could not proceed to participate in the conciliation talks under the Ministry of Social Protection because its officials were involved at the earlier bilateral level. Yet they participated in a conciliatory meeting which therefore negated their contention.”
It went on to add that “Alternatively, they [the GTU] who said that they were prepared to call off the strike, expressed a preference for arbitration instead of conciliation.”
Reacting to that suggestion, it was noted that the Ministry of Social Protection maintained that the grievance procedures as contained in the Collective Labour Agreement [CLA] subsisting between the parties, provides for the exhaustion of conciliation before arbitration can be contemplated.
Moreover, the Ministry of Social Protection maintained that before any progress could be made at conciliation, the current strike action initiated by the union must be called off after a Memorandum containing Terms of Resumption has been signed by the parties.
But the Social Protection Ministry added, “It is unfortunate that the GTU did not find comfort with the suggestion of the Ministry of Social Protection which necessitated the continuation of conciliation. Since the GTU could not find favour with possible Terms of Resumption facilitating the termination of the strike and the progression of Conciliation the meeting was adjourned to a time and date to be determined shortly.”
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