By Bibi Khatoon
Former Minister of Labour, Dr. Nanda Gopaul believes that an intervention from the Head of State can end the ongoing strike action being led by the Guyana Teachers’ Union (GTU).
Speaking with the News Room at the sidelines of an event at the Grand Coastal Hotel on Tuesday, Dr. Gopaul said the dispute which stemmed from a disagreement over salary increases should not have reached the stage of teachers striking.
“I think that there should not have been a closure in the negotiations and a lull in the talks. Once the talks were broken down, or direct negotiations, both parties should have, and at least the Government, should have taken the initiative to move it on and then to engage in further dialogue if necessary,” the former Labour Minister said.
Following a meeting on August 16 with the Minister of Education, Nicolette Henry and other officials, President of the GTU, Mark Lyte declared an impasse.
However, at this stage, Dr Gopaul believes only President David Granger can settle the matter.
“There can be an engagement by His Excellency and the Teachers’ Union leadership on the way forward. He can break this deadlock. His intervention can end the strike. If the Teachers are satisfied that there is an opportunity to have discussions in a meaningful way, continuing, the strike can be ended,” Dr. Gopaul said.
The Head of State is set to depart Guyana for the Ninth Meeting of the Prime Ministerial Sub-Committee on the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Single Market and Economy (CSME) slated Wednesday.
The President on Friday last indicated that the Government is willing to cut other areas in its finances to make a better offer to teachers but Dr. Gopaul said this position should have been stated earlier.
On the other hand, Trade Unionist, Lincoln Lewis supports the GTU’s position that the issue be sent straight to arbitration.
“It is a very incestuous relationship when you reach to this point where you’re asking the department or the Ministers that are involved in making the decisions within the Government…to ask them to come out and be impartial and just in their approach,” Lewis said, noting that “the best thing for them to do is to go to arbitration and have this matter resolved.”
He alluded to cases in the past where the arbitration process proved to be most successful in settling industrial relations.
Currently, the dispute between the Ministry and the GTU is at conciliation – a process which Lewis explained can take years to complete.
Lewis, who is the President of the Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC), said that efforts to move the strike from what is a “genuine workers issue” and label it political, will not help the Government’s case.
He also noted that the employment of substitute Teachers has serious consequences for the Government if the union approaches the International Labour Organisation (ILO).
Questioned at a late night press conference on Monday, Minister Henry said the parties are awaiting a call from the Department of Labour to move conciliation forward.
She hopes that given the importance of the matter that the call will come before the end of the week.