Letter: GTU has flagrantly flouted labour laws

GTU President Mark Lyte

Dear Editor,

Recently, I was in conversation with a friend in Guyana when I asked him how are conditions in the workplace. His answer was, “Very bad”. He is employed in the private sector, so I asked him, “Why not get the workers to carry out a strike for better pay and better conditions, just like the teachers?” His answer was, “No,” because the boss would withhold his pay.

And this is exactly the point: the Teachers’ Union, by their continued strike action, mistakenly believe that they can hold out in a strike ad infinitum, and force the Government to pay them at the same time. This is unrealistic, unreasonable, and against civil justice.

At the beginning of this strike, they were informed by the employer that the strike was illegal, and that there would be consequences. They were not satisfied with that caution, hence they took the matter to court. The court ruled that they have skirted around basic labour rules, and need to return to the bargaining table in the true spirit of collective bargaining. They returned to the bargaining table, but were obstinate in their resolve, not willing in any way to engage in clean negotiations; hence, that procedure floundered into a stalemate.

The GTU then, in belligerent style, returned to court, where an obviously confused judge granted them a convoluted judgement. That judgement is the subject of an appeal right now. It is subject to an appeal based on the fact that the judgement did not come close to anything the union is harping on; that is, unlike the interpretation of the union’s lawyers, Justice Kissoon’s ruling did not mean they were given the right to a never-ending strike.
Secondly, Kissoon’s ruling never addressed benefits and salaries, on which the union’s president is now belligerently making demands. Matters of salaries and benefits cannot be dealt with in a court of law; they have to be done between the two parties around a negotiating table.

I must inform Dr Lyte that he should have courted proper legal advice on the pertinent labour laws before calling the teachers out on a prolonged strike. Proper advice on industrial matters would have alerted him to the finer details of industrial action, but members of the union leadership are so consumed with an Opposition political agenda that they have misdirected themselves on these important labour rules.

Another labour law that has been flouted is that you cannot hold the employer under duress while making demands at the same time. It is the other way round; you first have to cease all hostilities, then sit down to negotiate. There is no bargaining negotiation that can take place under duress.

Further still, bargaining is not a winner-take-all on either side. It means that you meet each other on common ground, you will gain in some areas while in others you will see decreases in your demands. simply put, you must agree to disagree.

The GTU are also guilty as charged, because they have called the teachers out on a prolonged strike and are showing no indication that they are willing to compromise. This puts them in a bad light. The Government cannot reward an employee for being off the job indefinitely. that’s the law, there must be resumption before negotiation.

Arbitration, which is a nice sounding word, is also light years away, because the legal steps leading up to that point have not been met.

Finally, to mitigate their circumstances, the GTU should quickly get back to the table to negotiate a settlement. The longer the strike goes on, the more dire would be the consequences, and this is not good for the students, who are caught in the middle. Our children are our future, and due consideration must be given to them. At this juncture of our development, we cannot afford the learning loss.

Neil Adams