Jan 10, 2022 News
…GTU says 176 test positive for COVID-19; 90 students also infected
…Labour Ministry threatens to cut teachers’ pay
By Davina Bagot
Kaieteur News– Amid the alarming climb of COVID-19 cases across Guyana and more specifically in the education system, the Guyana Teachers’ Union (GTU) have called on members and non-members to stand in solidarity as the body engages in a one-day ‘isolation’ to protest the reopening of schools for face to face learning, without requisite safety measures being in place.
During a news conference on Sunday, the Union urged its teachers to remain at home today, thereby abstaining from even virtual learning, in the face of the more than 175 teachers and 90 students who have since tested positive for the deadly virus.
Minister of Labour, Joseph Hamilton upon receiving the news of what he described as strike action warned that teachers who decide to stay away from work today will not be paid. According to him, “Teachers in Guyana ought to be properly advised that heeding the call of the GTU to participate in the “Isolation Day” may be considered as an unauthorised absence from work, abandonment of their students and a gross dereliction of their duties.
In this regard, the MOE will be under no lawful obligation to pay persons who are absent and abandon their posts on Monday, 10 January 2022”.
The Minister reasoned that it is common labour practice that a period of notice must be given to the employer before any industrial action is taken. Moreover, labour relations practice would require the GTU to register its grievance with the MOE and enter a period of discourse before initiating any industrial action. It has been reported that GTU has written to the Chief Education Officer, Dr. Marcel Huston, but there is no report of any formal discussion being undertaken between GTU and the MOE regarding the COVID-19 issue before the call for the “Isolation Day” was made.
The union, however, through its President Mark Lyte, in laying these concerns to rest assured teachers that: “now is the time to stand up to the bullies”. “Colleagues, ladies and gentlemen and teachers, educators in particular, we must use this forum and we are using this forum to assure you that the “Isolation Day” is on! Nothing has changed with regard to the plan…we want you to know that the threats of salary cuts must not be heeded…a salary cut may be implemented but your life is more important. In fact, you need life to enjoy your salary. Salary is no good to you when you are dead. The choice is yours to stand with your Union…we have to stand (up) to the bullies. The time is now or never,” he charged, while promising that the Union will provide compensation to teachers who support the ‘Isolation Day’.
Lyte added, “We are up against a group of people that seek to bully their way. Bullyism will lead to many atrocities in life and like I said…if you allow yourself to be bullied by the statement uttered (which) was absolute rubbish, you will be bullied for life”.
During the online meeting, which attracted a live viewership of almost 1000 teachers, parents and media operatives, teachers raised several concerns regarding the conditions under which school is being convened.
It was explained that in some schools, children are being forced to sit…two-in-a-bench, although this violates the gazetted COVID-19 protocol, of six feet apart for social distancing.
Government reopened public schools last Monday to most students for face-to-face learning, after months of closure due to the pandemic. During the past week however, Guyana has recorded the most cases ever documented, reaching record breaking figures at least five consecutive days. As a consequence, the union has called on the Ministry of Education to suspend face-to-face learning for at least two weeks.
Lyte said, “We are calling on the Ministry to suspend all face-to- face classes for two weeks so that this surge or this spike can be reduced and we can go back into a face-to face setting after those two weeks, should the spike be showing a downward trend”.
Lyte also dismissed claims by the Minister of Education, Priya Manickchand that students and teachers entered the school system with the virus and did not contract it at the various institutions. Lyte said, “even if they came into the school environment and it is a community spread, we are saying that school provides a hub, or the school creates an environment for the further spread.”
The teachers’ representative was keen to note that during the two weeks, the Ministry of Education ought to ensure clean and running water is made available at wash sinks and toilets as well as proper ventilation in the institutions since reports have been received that students and teachers are forced to sit in dark rooms, due to faulty windows.
Added to the list of recommendations made by the union, it was noted that adequate cleaning agents must also be made available, among others.
Even more importantly, Lyte told the news conference that he desires to see the government not only say it cares, but also demonstrates it through the provision of these requests.
“The Ministry of Education contradicts the gazetted COVID order which says that as far as possible, we have to avoid large gatherings. I find the decision of the Ministry of Education to be ludicrous to enforce if you have 50 teachers on staff that they are saying that all teachers must be at school, whether you have a class or not…it would be prudent for the Ministry of Education to have a rotation system,” the Union President highlighted.
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