The Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC) is concerned at the growing intractable and hardening of attitudes that can prolong a strike that should never have happened in the first place, and which can be easily resolved. The almost three-year impasse between the Ministry of Education and Guyana Teachers Union (GTU) requires admittance that this does not spell well for the industrial relations environment and teachers’ morale in their role of moudling the minds of our children to be good and productive stewards of tomorrow.
The nation is witnessing government talking past the teachers and not with the teachers. This lends to the impression that the profession is not worthy of respect, perhaps seen as a lower rank in the order of things. What teachers are saying is, let us talk at the negotiation table in keeping with well-established and legal processes. Let us show mutual respect. Instead, teachers are hearing about government’s positions through the media as though direct communication is no longer seen as necessary or important.
There is a culture being developed over recent time where some ministers/government seem not to desire consultation or communication with established organisations that have constitutional role. Strong perceptions are held that they want to determine who must lead these organisations, how they must conduct themselves, who or what issues they must represent, and who they must associate with. Article 147 of the Guyana Constitution protects the right to strike and freedom of association.
The average teacher is performing above and beyond duty with open expectation that government will engage their leaders. Our teachers are practically on the streets negotiating, stating the flexibility of their demands. They are relying on the media to act as conduit between themselves and the administration which is disrespecting their need for communication and the fulfillment of the formal relationship that ought to exist between these actors. This is a disturbing development in labour relations.
GTU is being accused of political activism in a country that is rife with polarization; begging the question as to what is the agenda of those who do not want to respect the right of Collective Bargaining the teachers are demanding. Teachers are not a homogenous group and their coming together to represent their common needs must not be reduced to lumping them into political camps. To do this stands in stark contrast to government’s call for social cohesion and building relationship.
Instead of working with labour there seems to be determined effort to marginalise and miniaturise the role of labour. This makes workers vulnerable to the political class, uncaring employers and their dictates. GTUC is satisfied that our teachers’ struggle is right and just. Their struggle is in tandem with the forerunners of the GTU and the trade union movement who earlier shaped much of the freedoms and benefits we enjoy today.
GTUC is conscious that the stubbornness on the government’s part not to engage the union affects students as well as their parents/guardians and has the potential to disrupt other services in society. This is because the education system also plays a custodial role for our children and many families are able to engage in meaningful employment as their children attend school. Government must be similarly aware and must demonstrate that they care for our nation’s children, their parents and those services that are likely to suffer collateral damage as a result. Government must take full responsibility for creating an environment of conflict and hostility with our hardworking and long suffering teachers.
GTUC notes with concern and disappointment government’s earlier attempt to resolve the impasse by first ordering the teachers back to the negotiation table. At a meeting called on 30th August, 2018 teachers made their demand known for arbitration, having lost confidence in the Labour Department to conciliate in a fair and just manner. This was further exacerbated by Minister Keith Scott’s derogation of teachers, which he subsequently apologised for. In the most recent development the Labour Department has issued a letter, inviting the GTU and Ministry of Education, to meet on Thursday, 6th September without a stated agenda or reference to the teachers’ demand for arbitration.
From all observations government does not appear willing to negotiate in good faith. Even before the strike was started government telegraphed its value and respect for teachers by declaring its intent to employ scab labour. The use of this is an attempt to weaken the strike while ignoring the option of negotiating in good faith. The Minister of Education said this form of labour is being offered the benefit of $1000 to top up their cellphones, a consideration that was never given the teachers.
GTUC stands in support of GTU’s call for arbitration and calls on the support of the wider society in helping teachers in their just struggle.
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