Labour Minister’s ‘loss-of-pay’ warning to teachers triggers barrage of criticism

Last Updated on Sunday, 9 January 2022, 23:09 by Denis Chabrol

Minister of Labour Joseph Hamilton

Labour Minister Joseph Hamilton on Sunday warned teachers that they could lose part of their salaries for each day that they remain off the job and that their Guyana Teachers’ Union (GTU) has not followed procedures to address and settle grievances.

“Teachers in Guyana ought to be properly advised that heeding the call of the GTU to participate in the Isolation Day may be considered as an unauthorised absence from work, abandonment of their students and a gross dereliction of their duties. In this regard, the Ministry of Education will be under no lawful obligation to pay persons who are absent and abandon their posts on the 10th of January, 2022,” he said

But the GTU, in a swift response, hammered Mr. Hamilton over his failure to intervene in disputes with the Ministry of Education concerning the estimated 10,500 teachers. “I want the Minister of Labour to understand that labour is not your field so don’t jump into education…and you even while you are Minister of Labour, you are lacking,” said GTU Coretta Mc Donald even as she labelled the loss-of-pay advice as “foolish threats”.

The Labour Minister’s warning came less than one day after the GTU issued a letter to its members calling on them to embark on ‘Isolation Day’ Monday with the aim of pressuring the Ministry of Education to shut down all schools for 14 days from Monday, January 10 due to a surge in COVID-19. Mr. Hamilton noted that, while the union on Saturday wrote to Chief Education Officer Dr Marcel Hutson urging the two-week closure, it did not refer to ‘Isolation Day’. The call for that day was, however, stated in a union circular to teachers, something Mr. Hamilton condemned and warned of a possible loss in pay.

Ms. Mc Donald said that latest figures show that more than 175 teachers and more than 90 children have been tested positive with COVID.

She advised that if he Labour Minister was caring, he would have reached out to the GTU and the Ministry of Education.

Among her concerns were the absence of the Minister of Labour when 27 teachers from Moruca were infected,  need for engagement, and the locking out of teachers from schools. The GTU President recommended that Mr. Hamilton call in the union and the Ministry of Education to a union.

GTU President Mark Lyte said data about the conditions of schools were being systematically collected and so if the schools are closed, efforts should be made to ensure that there is proper ventilation, provision and repair of water and sanitation services, purchase of combination of chairs and desks to ensure social distancing, equitable distribution of sanitation supplies, the sanitisation of schools and the provision of Internet-ready devices.

“The GTU is not asking for complete closure of schools. The GTU is asking that we put the systems right so that when our children and our teachers would have returned to school, that they are going to go into safe environments,” the General Secretary said.