Govt to appeal High Court’s decision on rights to strike, collective bargaining, union dues; GTU, GTUC welcome “landmark” decision

Last Updated on Friday, 19 April 2024, 14:50 by Denis Chabrol

Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Anil Nandlall on Friday said the Guyana government would be appealing a High Court decision that declared that a teachers strike earlier this year was “lawful and legitimate” because government denied them their right to constitutional right to collective bargaining.

“These are vacuous conclusions and that is why it has to be appealed,” he said, adding that government “will seek a stay of execution of the order in respect of the orders granted.”

But Attorney-at-Law, Roysdale Forde, who represented the Guyana Trades Union Congress as an interested party, hailed the Court’s decision, saying that “for the first time the court would have determined authoritatively that there exists a right to strike in Guyana.” He said the court found that the Guyana Teachers Union’s strike was justified and legal. Mr Forde said the victory by the Guyana Teachers Union (GTU) has enshrined workers rights have in this country has been enshrined in law. “It has altered the understanding as to what constitutes  workers’ rights. I believe this is a significant win for labour and workers in this country,” said Mr Forde.

The Judge earlier declared that the government of Guyana, as the employer, had engaged in acts which constitute substantial interference and denial of the fundamental right guaranteed the applicant union for collective bargaining. Further the court declared that any deduction or withholding of remuneration by the Government of Guyana, from the salaries of teachers who were engaged in industrial action between 5th February and 4th March 2012 because it would be arbitrary, unlawful, unreasonable or unconstitutional and without legal basis.

The Attorney General expressed concern that Justice Sandil Kissoon’s decision would open the door for employers to pay striking workers because he has “equate the freedom with right” but failed to address other repercussions. “Now, we will have striking workers, who are going to be compensated for work not done. What you have done here is that you have turned the law upside down because the monies you are going to be paid with for exercising this alleged right that you now have are the monies of the employer,” he told reporters. Mr Nandlall argued that Justice Kissoon’s ruling amounts to a violation right to property, flaying the judge for converting a right to a freedom.

According to the Attorney General, the deduction and remittance of union dues was voluntary. He disagreed that the government’s refusal to do so affects the constitutional right to associate as well as the right to form a trade union. “These are quantum leaps that are not supported by anything,” he said.

Mr Nandlall described Justice Kissoon’s language “objectionable”, saying that it was intemperate, giving the impression that “there was almost a deeply driven intent to use very, very strong language that I believe could have been avoided.”

President of the Guyana Teachers Union, Dr Mark Lyte described the decision as a “landmark ruling” that sets the platform for other unions to fight for collective bargaining. “As you have seen, over the last several years we have had a lot of imposition and other unions are  equally crying out for collective bargaining so I believe that this ruling give the voices of teachers, the voices of workers a chance to be heard,” he said. Dr Lyte said the High Court decision has injected “renewed vigour” into teachers.

The GTU President said if the union does not return to the table to negotiate the outstanding proposal for 2019 to 2023, there could be a resumption of industrial action “but this can be averted.”