Kaieteur News – It is a fundamental principle that unions serve as the legitimate representatives of the workers they represent, advocating for their rights, benefits, and interests. However, yesterday, the government launched what can only be seen as an attempt to undermine the rights of the teachers’ union.
The government’s decision to engage in direct consultations with teachers, bypassing the Guyana Teachers’ Union, is both unethical and detrimental to the principles of collective bargaining. This approach not only undermines the authority of the union but also threatens the rights and well-being of the teachers it represents. Teachers must not be lured into attending or participating in these so-called ‘consultations.’
The participation of teachers in these talks appears to be intended to drive a wedge between them and their union. At the end of the consultations, the President was reported to have said he now had a better idea of the issues relating to teachers’ welfare and would be taking a report to Cabinet. He has made no mention of meeting with the Guyana Teachers’ Union. This approach is a violation of the principle of collective bargaining. Collective bargaining is a process of negotiation and communication between labor unions or employee representatives and employers (in this instance, the government). Such negotiations typically cover a wide range of topics, including wages, working hours, benefits, workplace conditions, and other employment-related issues.
The President’s discussions with teachers on issues such as anomalies in salaries, housing, and allowances send a troubling message. These are matters that should be discussed and negotiated between the government and the legitimate representatives of the teachers – the Guyana Teachers’ Union. By engaging directly with individual teachers, the government is bypassing the union’s role and undermining the very essence of collective bargaining.
This unethical approach not only erodes the union’s authority but also puts teachers at a disadvantage. When negotiations are carried out through collective bargaining, teachers have the strength of unity and the backing of a well-established organization to advocate for their interests. However, when they are forced to engage with the government individually or in select small groups, they are vulnerable to influence and intimidation, making it challenging to assert their rights effectively.
The involvement of the President in these consultations raises questions about the government’s intentions. The Ministry of Education should be the appropriate body responsible for negotiating matters related to teachers’ salaries and benefits. The fact that the President has taken it upon himself to lead these discussions creates the impression of centralized decision-making and the cult of personality, reminiscent of authoritarian regimes. For years public servants have been victims of the same approach. Each year, the government imposes salary increases on public servants without any reference to their union. Now, teachers appear to be headed for the same treatment. They should not find pleasure in this – since this approach has the hallmark of driving a wedge between them and their union and they should not be contributing to such a state of affairs.
In a democracy, decisions affecting the livelihoods of workers should be made through a transparent and inclusive process. By sidelining the Guyana Teachers’ Union and engaging in direct consultations, the government is setting a dangerous precedent. It risks not only alienating the union but also compromising the rights of teachers to fair and equitable negotiations.
Collective bargaining is not merely a process; it is a fundamental right that protects the interests of workers. It ensures that decisions are made collectively, taking into account the input of all stakeholders. Bypassing this process undermines the principles of democracy and accountability upon which any functioning society should be built.
If the government can disregard the legitimate representatives of teachers in this manner, it sets a troubling precedent for other labor unions in the country. It sends a message that collective bargaining agreements can be circumvented whenever the government sees fit, eroding the trust between labor unions and the state. All trade unions in Guyana should join condemning the government for this approach. It speaks to contempt for the teachers’ union. Today it is the GTU, tomorrow it will be some other union. Unions cannot be dissed in such a manner. Unions exist for a reason – to protect the rights and interests of their members. The Guyana Teachers’ Union is the legitimate representative of teachers in ensuring that their concerns are heard and addressed. To undermine the union’s authority is to further weaken labor rights in the country.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and beliefs of this newspaper and its affiliates.)
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