GTU needs to “reorganise itself” before any talks – Education Minister

Education Minister Priya Manickchand

Education Minister Priya Manickchand has expressed that the Ministry is willing to work with the Guyana Teachers’ Union (GTU) for the betterment of students and teachers, but the Union must first “reorganise itself”.

She made this statement on Wednesday and called out the GTU for playing politics.
She shared that she held the view that Unions, once properly conducted, were noble institutions that ought to be doing good work. Manickchand, however, said that the “minute” a union started introducing political content, it is not acting in the best interest of its members. Guyana has some 55,000 teachers.

“I am prepared to engage with the [GTU] or any other stakeholders as often as is needed for as long as is needed. At this stage, the Union has to decide if they want to engage with us. The Union has to understand its role and fight for itself. And if they are not prepared to do it, then teachers will see it,” she added.

According to the Education Minister, she hopes that the GTU “fixes itself” so that it can have relations with not only her and, by extension, the Education Ministry, but with other persons on the teachers’ behalf. She posited that the GTU would have great value once it operated as a union.

On Wednesday, the Education Ministry launched its Teachers’ Welfare and Benefits programme which will see teachers from across the country benefiting from discounted services across a wide range of sectors including electronics, telecommunications, retail goods, air transportation, household furniture, and appliances, optical care, office supplies, insurance, garments and access to loans for home building.

But according to Manickchand, the GTU urged teachers to boycott the launching.
“How can you tell teachers not to come to this programme?” she asked. She added that this clearly showed that the Union was not acting in the interest of the teachers who it claimed to represent.

She went on to say, “unions are usually the people who do this kind of service,…they usually, you go and talk to businesses and get discounts”.

The Minister said since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Unions from across the Caribbean Region have been training teachers on how to use technology to deliver education. This led Manickchand to ask, “What has our union done?” Nevertheless, she said that she was not “closed at all as to any talks” with the GTU.

Manickchand has repeatedly accused the GTU of being a political party. The Union’s General Secretary, Coretta McDonald is an A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) parliamentarian. At present, the GTU and the Education Ministry are at loggerheads over the reopening of schools for face-to-face classes.

The GTU has accused the Ministry of not including its executives in consultations, in particular, on the Government’s COVID-19 vaccination policy. The GTU reported that many teachers were locked out of school compounds as a result of the vaccination policy.
As such, the Union urged teachers to boycott the reopening of schools and strike. The strike was held on September 8, 9, and 10 in front of the Education Ministry’s Brickdam, Georgetown headquarters.

Despite the strike action, the majority of teachers showed up for duties, according to data released by the Ministry. The Education Ministry described the GTU’s call for protest action as “uncaring and unconscionable” while condemning it as “irresponsible and not reflective of the realities of the present state of the COVID-19 pandemic nor the needs of the nation’s children”.

After receiving reports about teachers being discriminated against by the GTU because they chose not to take part in the protest action, the Education Ministry earlier this week removed the Union from its role of selecting teachers for duty-free scholarships and other benefits.

The GTU is among three unions that have mounted a legal challenge against the vaccination policy, and by extension, the COVID-19 Emergency Measures published in the Official Gazette.

The unions, among other things, are seeking to quash the COVID-19 vaccination and testing mandate in the COVID-19 Emergency Measures dated July 29. Under the most recent Emergency Measures, any person wishing to enter a public building must be vaccinated.

A public building refers to a building to which the public has lawful access and includes both privately- and publicly-owned buildings, including learning institutions.

An unvaccinated person who wants to enter a public building must make an appointment and present a negative PCR test taken within seven days of the day they want entry. The Health Ministry has advised the Education Ministry that it would be better to have students fully vaccinated before they return.

The United States Government recently donated to Guyana 146,250 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which is being used to vaccinate children ages 12 to 17. And according to the Health Minister, Dr Frank Anthony, there are enough doses to immunise the adolescent population.