GTU’s claim of non-discussion of teachers’ salaries in MoE engagements untrue – CEO tells court

Some teachers on strike, protesting outside of the Ministry of Education in Georgetown [File photo]

Chief Education Officer (CEO) Saddam Hussain has countered claims made by the Guyana Teachers’ Union (GTU) in its court proceedings that it was never engaged by the Ministry of Education on salary-related issues for teachers.

In court documents filed by the GTU (Applicant) in February 2024 against the Attorney General of Guyana (Respondent), the union disclosed that only non-financial matters were discussed with the Education Ministry regarding its multi-year proposal for the period 2019-2023 that was submitted to Government in September 2020.

The GTU said its General Secretary, Coretta McDonald, had written President Dr Irfaan Ali on April 18, 2023, requesting an urgent meeting to discuss the way forward for teachers. “She penned that the Guyana Teachers’ Union had shared its proposals for salaries and non-salaries benefits dated back to 2020 but they were not engaged at any level to discuss the same,” the court document stated.

GTU President Mark Lyte and General Secretary Coretta McDonald












It went on to outline that in another letter, dated October 12, 2023, to the Chief Labour Officer (CLO) Dhaneshwar Deonarine, McDonald had requested arbitration. The court document stated, “[McDonald] noted that all matters discussed between the Ministry of Education and the Guyana Teachers’ Union up to that point were non-financial matters. Ms McDonald reported that the Minister of Education informed the Guyana Teachers’ Union that their financial matters were the concern of the Office of the President, but the Guyana Teachers’ Union had been unsuccessful in engaging the Office of the President.”

Consequently, the GTU said its General Secretary then wrote Labour Minister Joseph Hamilton on January 23, 2024, giving notice of pending industrial strike action which commenced nationwide on February 5, “for better wages.”

Contrary to GTU claims

However, in the Affidavit in Defence, CEO Hussain contended, “Contrary to what the Applicant has alleged that teachers’ salaries were not the subject of discussions, at the very meeting of the 31st of January 2024, five (5) of the eleven (11) agenda items of that meeting related to salaries/remuneration and the issue was thoroughly discussed with an agreement to resume the said discussion at the next meeting fixed for 21st February 2024.” The CEO presented the minutes of that meeting as an exhibit in his Affidavit.

He further pointed out in the court document that from August 11, 2020, until January 31, 2024, the GTU and the MoE met continuously, at an average of once monthly – sometimes as many as three times per month. Those meetings, he noted, dealt with the demands of the Applicant as well as demands of the MoE regarding the general welfare and well-being of teachers and the best interests of the education sector.

CEO, Saddam Hussain

“These engagements were very constructive and led to a large number of mutually beneficial decisions and measures being implemented,” the CEO stated.

In fact, Hussain outlined, in his Affidavit, some of the specific requests of the GTU since 2020 and the number of these requests, which have been favourably addressed by the Education Ministry as well as the Government.

“These range from wage increases, duty-free concessions, scholarships, hinterland benefits, conditions for re-employment, welfare matters, grants and house lots,” said the CEO, who submitted these as an exhibit to the court.

Hussain further explained that the MoE has “successfully and satisfactorily” addressed 30 of the 41 proposals made by the Applicant in the past three years, and of the 11 outstanding requests, two are specifically only to benefit GTU executive members, while two others cannot be granted because they are contrary to the Laws of Guyana.

The CEO further noted in the Affidavit that the last engagement with the GTU on January 31, 2024 – a mere five days before the strike action commenced, was “very cordial and constructive and was conducted with an aura of camaraderie.” That meeting, he noted, concluded with a decision to reconvene on February 21, 2024.

“There was absolutely no animosity nor acrimony between the parties when they parted company.”

“In fact, and most significantly, it was agreed at the said meeting that the MoE and the Applicant must meet on the third Wednesday of every month to continue these engagements. This suggestion came from no other than the Applicant’s President, Dr Mark Lyte, and it resulted in a unanimous decision.”

The legal proceedings filed by the GTU was to block the Education Ministry from cutting the salaries of those teachers who had been on strike for the past four weeks as well as to reverse an MOE decision to stop deducting union dues from teachers’ salaries and remitting same to the GTU.

Last week, High Court judge, Justice Sandil Kissoon, appointed two mediators in the persons of Senior Counsel Edward Luckhoo and Senior Counsel Robin Stoby to engage the Education Ministry and the GTU with the aim of finding a solution to end the current impasse. Those mediatory talks will continue today.

Will not be bullied

However, the Government has stated that GTU has to end the strike if it wants to re-engage the State. During a live broadcast on Saturday, President Ali reiterated pleas to the GTU to call off the strike action and have teachers return to the classrooms.

The Head of State contended that for the meetings with the Government to continue, the GTU must end the strike.

“We cannot be politically bullied. There is a system, an ongoing process. You cannot return to that ongoing process under duress. If the union is serious about returning to the process, then they will have the teachers back in school and proceed to the process that was underway…”

“This is the point we have been making consistently, that the meetings that were planned must be allowed to continue, and that is where issues relating to the welfare of teachers will continue to be discussed, but those who are aligned with the leadership of the GTU allow political directives to supersede the natural course of things, to influence their behaviour… If we are to be a democratic and law-abiding society, a society that stands on the pillar of justice, fairness and honesty, then we have to be faithful to the institutions of our society,” President Ali argued.

However, in a live broadcast on Sunday, GTU President Lyte insisted that the strike action will continue – entering now into a fifth week.

“We are not going back to school unless Government agrees to our terms and this is not bullyism. This is standing our ground and this is what unions do,” Lyte said in a Facebook live on Sunday.