High Court blocks Govt from deducting salaries of striking teachers

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

– also orders for Govt to continue deducting and remitting union dues

The High Court on Thursday granted Conservatory Orders blocking the Government from cutting the salaries of striking teachers and also blocking the Government from moving ahead with a decision to discontinue the deduction of union dues from the salaries of teachers for the GTU.

The orders were handed down by Justice Sandil Kissoon, and are to remain in effect until the determination of the substantive case with the hearing set to commence on March 20, 2024. The GTU is represented by Attorney at Law, Darren Wade while the State’s case is being led by Attorney General Anil Nandlall.

The Guyana Teachers Union (GTU) approached the High Court to challenge the Government’s decision to deduct the salaries of striking teachers.

According to the document filed about two weeks ago, the application includes a wide range of declarations and orders sought from the court.

GTU is asking the court for a conservatory order that the status quo remains the same that is the government will not deduct monies from the wages and salaries of teachers engaged in any industrial action.

The other order and declaration, inter alia, include discrimination, breach of freedom of association, and breach of protection from deprivation of property.

In addition, the GTU also asked the court to quash a decision by the Government to stop deducting fees from unionised teachers and remitting the same to the union.

Some teachers on the protest line

The GTU has organised a countrywide strike by teachers from February 5 to 16, 2024, calling for better pay and working conditions – an action which the Government has labelled as illegal and politically driven. Consequently, the Education Ministry has since indicated to the GTU that it would stop deducting dues from the wages and salaries of teachers on behalf of the union. This means the union would now have to collect its fees directly from teachers.

In the application filed on Tuesday by the GTU and its President Mark Lyte against the Attorney General, the union is asking the court to declare, among other things, that it was discriminated against. It also wants the court to declare that the Government ceasing to act as an agent for the GTU to deduct union dues is “unreasonable, arbitrary, and capricious”.

The GTU asked the court to issue, “An Order of Certiorari quashing the Government of Guyana’s decision to stop acting as an agent to deduct union dues from the unionised teacher and remitting it to the applicant. An order of mandamus ordering Mrs Shannielle Hoosein-Outar, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Education to retract her letter dated February 6, 2024, and apologise to the Applicant on three consecutive Saturdays in daily newspapers of wide circulation.”

The union is also seeking a declaration that the Government’s use of the industrial action taken by the GTU as a reason for relinquishing the agency is a show of “bad faith, improper purposes, and irrelevant considerations.”

Nevertheless, concerning the deduction of union dues, Attorney General Anil Nandlall, SC, contends that the severance of this ‘agency service’ that the Government offers to unions has already been settled by both the High Court and the Court of Appeal (CoA), and declared as lawful.

The Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU) had challenged a decision by former Permanent Secretary of the Public Service Ministry, Nanda Gopaul, to withdraw the Government’s service of deducting union dues from public servants’ wages and salaries, and remit the same to the union.

Former Chief Justice, the late Ian Chang, had ruled against the GPSU in 2010 that the Government’s action was not wrong or unlawful and this ruling was upheld in the CoA in 2022.

Meanwhile, the Education Ministry has contended that it has already fulfilled 25 of 41 demands proposed by the GTU in a multi-year agreement, and of the 16 remaining requests, two are specifically for the benefit of only GTU and its Executive Members, while two others are contrary to the laws of Guyana. The other 12 proposals are currently under consideration.

Only last month, the Ministry had an engagement with the Union on this matter. Hence, the Labour Ministry has determined that conditions for the strike organised by the GTU have not been met, and as a result, such an industrial action is “wholly illegal and unlawful.”

The government is contending that the countrywide strike action called by the GTU was part of the A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) Opposition’s tactics to mislead teachers for its own political agenda.