Teachers’ strike aimed at forcing gov’t to arbitration – GTU President

Last Updated on Saturday, 11 May 2024, 21:57 by Writer

President of the Guyana Teachers Union, Dr Mark Lyte.

The teachers’ strike that resumed on Thursday is seeking to force government to go to arbitration for increased salaries for 2019 to 2023, President of the Guyana Teachers Union (GTU), Dr Mark Lyte said Friday.

“We are at a stage where the union has to find a way to force the action and force the hand of the powers-that-be to agree to this process so that is why we’re having the strike because there is a deadlock, there is no intervention and there seems to be no willingness on the part of the administration to move to arbitration,” he said.

The GTU’s proposal provides for 25 percent in 2019 and 20 percent for 2020, 2021, 2022 and 2023. The government has bluntly refused to bargain for those years and has, instead, offered to do so for a new multi-year agreement from 2024.

Briefing the media at the end of day two of the strike, Mr Lyte said the memorandum of understanding between the GTU and the Ministry of Education requires the union and the employer to both agree to arbitration and the arbitration panel. In this case, he said the union was ready for arbitration especially since the Chief Labour Officer had already said there was no need for conciliation, one of the steps in the grievance procedure. “We’re far past conciliation stage.” he said.

Dr Lyte said there was no wisdom in returning to the Chief Labour Officer after last month’s High Court decision that the 29-day strike by teachers was “lawful and legitimate” because of government’s repeated and prolonged refusal to collectively bargain for 2019 to 2023, and as a consequence government could not deduct monies from the salaries of those who had participated in the strike from February 5 to March 4.

Attorney General Anil Nandlall earlier this week said eventually government would appeal Justice Sandil Kissoon’s decision even if he did not provide the promised written version.

Responding to Mr Nandlall’s contention that teachers were not entitled to pay increases for 2019 to 2023 because they had not objected to pay hikes for those years, the GTU President said it was customary for teachers, including retirees and other former teachers, to be paid negotiated increases retroactively. Once there is an imposition and there is an active multi-year proposal before you, whenever the negotiations take place, it is always retroactive,” he said.

The GTU on Friday said that from next Monday, the strike would be accompanied by protests “at various locations of importance” as part of a “very strategic” move that would see teachers protest for two days and rest for two days.

Dr Lyte said the union was not forcing anyone to join the new bout of industrial unrest, but was quick to point out that all teachers would eventually benefit from the struggle. He said more than 60 percent of teachers responded to the strike call on Thursday and “a little higher” on Friday.