GTU sounds strike call but Education Minister relying on teachers’ commitment to students

Last Updated on Wednesday, 1 September 2021, 13:01 by Denis Chabrol

GTU Vice President Mark Lyte.

The Guyana Teachers’ Union (GTU) on Wednesday called on all teachers to go on strike from next Monday if any unvaccinated teacher is turned away from school, but Minister of Education Priya Manickchand remained optimistic that many schools would be manned by teachers who have taken a jab against the coronavirus.

“We will be monitoring very closely what will take place at our various schools and  if one teacher is prevented from accessing the school, we are advising our members that all of us must withdraw our service and let us see who will teach the children,” he told reporters from the picket line outside the Ministry of Education.

He said persons enjoy individual choices and are not compelled to disclose their medical history to anyone. Instead, he urged the Ministry of Education to consult with teachers and take their concerns to the President and Cabinet.

Ms. Manickchand said more than 50 percent of the nation’s more than 9,000 teachers have been vaccinated, but she offered no clear indication of a contingency plan for schools that might be affected by the planned industrial unrest. “I have not made those kinds of arrangements. I believe the teachers of this country will be responsible and I believe that they are aware that the education of the nation’s children rests on their children,” she said.

The Education Minister questioned whether the GTU was speaking for the majority of teachers who would like to return to the classrooms from September 6 and not “inspired or guided” by any factor. “It would be foolish of me to say that teachers staying away won’t have an impact because it will. At this point, I’m asking each teacher to look into their own hearts and determine what is their duty when there is an existential threat, what is their professional duty to this country, to themselves and to the children that they are sworn to serve,” she said.

The High  Court is yet to hear and determine a case brought by the GTU, Guyana Public Service Union and the Guyana Trades Union Congress asking for the COVID-19 vaccination measures to be quashed. The court has also not heard applications for injunctions blocking government workers from entering the workplace and requesting that government pays for PCR tests for government employees.

During  a picketing exercise outside the Ministry of Education, the GTU President said teachers are excited to return to the classrooms but teachers are being prevented from conducting business with the Ministry of Education, Regional Democratic Councils, Guyana Revenue Authority and social services as part of a “forced agenda across the sectors” to take the vaccine.