High Court decision is basis for workers to shut down country – lawyers

Last Updated on Saturday, 4 May 2024, 10:36 by Writer

Attorney-at-Law Roysdale Forde, GTUC General Secretary Lincoln Lewis, Opposition Leader Aubrey Norton and Attorney-at-Law Darren Wade.

Lawyers associated with the People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR), who won a High Court case for the Guyana Teachers Union (GTU) and the Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC), on May 1—Labour Day—called on workers to use that decision as the plank for street protests.

GTU’s lawyer Darren Wade believed that workers could use Justice Sandil Kissoon’s decision that the 29-day strike by teachers was “lawful and legitimate” to go on strike to pressure the government to collectively bargain for increased wages and salaries. He called on other government employees to piggyback on the decision in favour of the GTU and take action.

“The court has paved the way for you to enter the streets. The court has paved the way for you to shut down this country and justifiably so because over the years you have been engaging with the government, pleading and begging them to come to the table and they have refused,” Wade told a joint GTUC-GTU rally at the teachers’ union headquarters on Woolford Avenue, Georgetown.

Lawyer Roysdale Forde, who represented the GTUC as an interested party, echoed the call for workers to take militant action against the People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPPC)-led administration. With government already stating that it would appeal the decision, Mr Forde said the issue was now an “ongoing battle” that would go to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) and he has already recommended that the trade union movement go on the streets. “I told the President of the Teachers’ Union, I’ve told the GTU people: take your people on the streets, take your people on the streets. I will be presumptuous enough to say that the Leader of the Opposition is supporting and he has indicated publicly that he is supporting the labour movement,” he said.

Responding to the government’s criticism of the High Court decision on the grounds that Justice Kissoon conflated a right with the constitutionally enshrined freedom to strike, Mr Forde reminded that the judge based his decision on circumstances where the government was being oppressive, acted unilaterally, imposed wage conditions and rejected collective bargaining. He said the decision was also pegged to the fact that the union had sought to activate the grievance procedures of conciliation and arbitration. “Labour this is major because what would have happened by this decision, we would be able to break free from the clutches of government,” he said.

GTUC General Secretary, Lincoln Lewis said government should abide by the High Court decision but once the appeal process is triggered by government, the labour movement would take the fight all the way to the Trinidad-headquartered regional court, Guyana’s final court of appeal. “If you care about the people, then you give the people what they want. Your court has decided…. The CCJ is for people, not dog and cat and since we are not dogs and cats, we are going to go to the CCJ,” he said.

Leader of the Opposition, Aubrey Norton, who was among those present at the GTUC-GTU rally, was not down to speak at that event. Unlike in the past, he was not on Wednesday asked to address the gathering.

Meanwhile, at the start of the May Day march on Middle Street, a disagreement broke out between GTUC General Secretary Lincoln Lewis and Mr Norton over whether the politicians should be at the helm of the parade. Mr Lewis insisted that the parade was an event by the labour movement. Eventually, Mr Lewis relented and allowed the Opposition Leader, lawyers Wade and Forde and himself to lead the march and asked that all other politicians go behind the banner. Mr Norton, on seeing GTUC President Norris Witter, called him twice but the trade unionist ignored him.