Teachers’ strike: GTU, Govt to continue mediation on Monday

Mediators, Senior Counsels Edward Luckhoo and Robin Stoby (in the background) leaving the mediation at the High Court on Friday

The Guyana Government and the Guyana Teachers’ Union (GTU) will continue their mediation on Monday in an effort to end the stalemate that has led to the ongoing strike action by teachers over the past four weeks.

At the High Court on Friday, Senior Counsels Edward Luckhoo and Robin Stoby – who were appointed by Justice Sandil Kissoon – mediated six-hour-long talks between the two parties.

This was done through the court invoking the Civil Procedure Rules 2016 Part 26 (Court Ordered Meditation) with a view of ending the strike and ultimately the stalemate between the Government and the Union.

Attorney-at-Law Darren Wade, who is representing the GTU, disclosed that they would return to the table on Monday. He added that both parties were under clear instructions not to divulge details of this negotiation, but they were hoping that there could be an “amicable resolution as soon as possible”.

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.

Later, 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 (REOs) 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.

Attorney General and Legal Affairs Minister Anil Nandlall had debunked claims that Hussain was found guilty of contempt of court when he appeared before Justice Kissoon for the memorandum/circular which had been published advising REOs and Principal Education Officers (PEOs) to continue collecting the names of teachers who were absent from work.
The Ministry intends to use the data collected to keep track of teachers who were both present and absent from classrooms during the four-week teachers’ strike spearheaded by GTU.

The Attorney General explained that the circular Hussain published was issued after he had informed the Ministry that the GTU was allegedly spreading misinformation about the case which was before the court.

Nandlall admitted that he did not review the circular prior to it being sent to REOs and PEOs; however, after careful consideration, he explained, the “circular was not worded in the best possible language”, and he understands why it can be interpreted in multiple ways.
“I will concede that it was not expressed in the best language possible, and it is capable of some unfortunate interpretations … and some of those interpretations can have an adverse impact on the administration of justice, and even cast aspersions on the court itself,” Nandlall said.

Wave of measures

A statement from the Government on Thursday indicated that the Education Ministry has implemented another wave of measures and decisions to benefit teachers. These measures were unsolicited by the Union and implemented upon the Government’s initiative over the past four years.

The last of the engagements between the Education Ministry and the GTU took place on January 31, 2024. There, at least five salary-related issues that were on the agenda were addressed.

“At the end of the meeting, there was no evidence whatsoever of any rancour, discord, or disagreement between the parties. As a result, the Government was understandably shocked when the Union, a few days after, announced its intention to resort to strike action. The Government wishes to emphasise that, at all times, it was and remains ready and prepared to resume those engagements,” the statement added.

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

While the Government did not think that judicial intervention was necessary, having regard to the established industrial practices, it said there would be participation in the process with the firm expectation that it would put teachers back into the classrooms.

Meanwhile, Chief Education Officer Hussain also issued a statement to all teachers and headteachers, reaffirming that the decision to strike was illegal and contrary to the agreements signed by the Education Ministry and the GTU.

“To be clear, the MoE has received advice from the Ministry of Labour, the experts on the issue, that conditions for strike action have not been met as a result of which any such strike would be wholly illegal and unlawful. I believe that the GTU has been unduly influenced by its General Secretary, who serves as Member of Parliament for the main Opposition. This threat of industrial action sets a bad precedence since this is the final term before the [ National Grade Six Assessment] NGSA and [Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate] CSEC exams. Any disruption to the teaching-learning process could affect individual children and their entire future,” he penned.