Govt to appeal ruling on teachers’ strike – AG

The content originally appeared on: INews Guyana
Attorney General & Legal Affairs Minister Anil Nandlall, SC

The government will be moving to the Court of Appeal seeking to overturn the ruling handed down by Justice Sandil Kissoon at the Supreme Court on Friday concerning the strike action organised by the Guyana Teachers Union (GTU).

This was revealed by the Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Anil Nandlall, SC during an interview with the Department of Public Information (DPI).

In a unique turn of events and despite the heap of supporting cases before him, Justice Kissoon has ruled that teachers should be paid during the time they were on strike.

The ruling, Minister Nandlall said, shakes the foundation of legal principles here in Guyana.

“Wittingly or unwittingly, what the honourable judge has done is that he has laid the platform for every single strike action to end up in the court…The court will now become an industrial centre. That is not the function of the court,” he explained.

Laying bare his position, AG Nandlall pointed out the explicit difference between a fundamental right and a freedom.

In law, freedom is bound by certain conditionalities while a right, on the other hand, is an act that can be exercised with impunity.

Article 147 (2) of the Constitution states that no person should be stopped from exercising their “freedom to strike.”

This means, according to the Attorney General, that the freedom to strike is bound by conditionalities, one of which is the common law principle “no work, no pay.”

“[Striking] was once illegal and criminal. It was made legal now. So you have a freedom to strike. However, that freedom was always subject to conditionalities [was that] you are going to suffer no pay if you strike,” Minister Nandlall said.

Notwithstanding this, the minister said this appeared to be of little to no importance to the judge in making his ruling.

“The judge says once it is there, he refuses to see a distinction between right and freedom, though I drew it to his attention. By [saying a] freedom to strike [is] a right to strike, and now ruling that if you exercise this right you are entitled to be paid, what he has done…is to trample now upon another person’s right (the employer),” he explained.

Further, the minister expressed deep concern about the court’s decision to practically obligate the government to continue the remittance of union dues for GTU members.

He argued that the executive policy to collect those dues, which was being done gratuitously, is insulated from judicial review.

“Right across planet Earth, there are unions doing their business…An employer never has an obligation that the law recognises to assist the union…I don’t know of any statute in the Caribbean that has created such an obligation,” Minister Nandlall asserted.

Despite having several meetings with the Ministry of Education, the GTU accused the government of refusing to meet and discuss pressing issues affecting teachers.

The ministry, however, said the allegation is false, insisting that the government has had ongoing discussions with the union since the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) assumed office in 2020. [DPI]