Teachers strike: Court appoints mediators to address stalemate between Govt, GTU today

The content originally appeared on: INews Guyana
Some teachers who are on strike protesting outside of the Ministry of Education in Georgetown

…as VP Jagdeo urges teachers to return to classroom

In an effort to end the stalemate that has led to the ongoing strike action by teachers over the past four weeks, the High Court has identified two mediators to advance talks between the Guyana Government and the Guyana Teachers’ Union (GTU).

The GTU had filed court proceedings to block the Government from, among other things, cutting the salaries of those teachers who have been on strike since February 5.

During a hearing on Thursday, the presiding judge, Justice Sandil Kissoon, named two mediators in the persons of Senior Counsel Edward Luckhoo and Senior Counsel Robin Stoby with a view of ending the strike and ultimately the stalemate between the Government and the union. This was done through the court invoking the Civil Procedure Rules 2016 Part 26 (Court Ordered Meditation).

Those mediatory talks will commence today at the High Court and the presiding judge urged the two parties to put their best foot forward. In fact, Justice Kissoon is hoping that during today’s mediation the issues would be resolved thus resulting in teachers returning to the classrooms as early as Monday.

“We look forward to positive results [on Friday],” the Judge stated.

No need for mediation

However, Attorney General Anil Nandlall, SC, argued that there was no need for mediatory intervention since there was never a breakdown of talks between the Education Ministry and the GTU. He added that the Government has always been open to engaging the Union, but it is the GTU which broke away from those engagements.

He told Guyana Times following the hearing that, “…the Government is ready, willing and able to resume engaging the Union. The Government never stopped engaging the Union. The Union attended a meeting up to the 31sJanuary and then decided to go on strike. There is no bad relation and there was no animosity expressed at that meeting. In fact, a date was fixed for the meeting to resume on 21st February, but the [Union] decided to strike. The Government is prepared to meet with them…”

Last week, the High Court granted Conservatory Orders for the Government to, among other things, continue paying teachers who are on strike until the court proceedings are determined.

On Wednesday, Chief Education Officer Saddam Hussain was hauled before the court and ordered by Justice Kissoon to rescind a circular that was issued to Regional Education Officers on Tuesday to continue documenting the names of teachers who were absent from work in a bid to deduct their pay for the days they were on strike.

Eventually be cut

Meanwhile, Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo contends that the salaries of those teachers on strike will eventually be cut.

“We intend to follow the interim order. The order says that we shall not deduct money from those who are striking at this point, pending the hearing of the case. We don’t know what the outcome will be… But let me just make it clear, we will continue to collect information from those who are absenting themselves from the classroom – the teachers,” Jagdeo stated.

The Guyana Government had labelled the strike action as illegal since the established processes under the law and under the employer-employee relationship through the Collective Bargaining Agreement had not been exhausted.

According to the Vice President, the teachers are being misled into thinking that they will continue to be paid even if they do not work. He pointed out that while this may be the case for the period pending the outcome of the court proceedings, legal experts have advised the Government that the Laws of Guyana do not support the principle that if you do not work, you can still be paid. In fact, he noted that this precedent was set by the Privy Council which has upheld the principle of ‘no work, no pay’.

To this end, VP Jagdeo urged the teachers to return to the classroom and not be further misled – something which could massively cost them in the future.

“My fear is that they are misleading teachers into believing that the matter is resolved [in the court] and they can strike as long as they wish and they will be paid forever. We believe, based on what we’ve seen – the precedent, that this matter will be determined in favour of the principle that has long been established and the deductions, if taken at that time, will be harsher for teachers. I’m urging the teachers not to be misled by what you hear from the Union…,” the Vice President posited.