Professor Leyland Lucas has been proposed by the Ministry of Social Protection’s Department of Labour to head the arbitration panel to decide on a pay raise for teachers.
But the Guyana Teachers’ Union (GTU) is concerned that the Ministry is forcing them to accept this nominee.
Labour officials and the GTU met Tuesday morning at the Ministry’s Brickdam, Georgetown office to continue discussions on the appointment of suitable arbitrators to settle the long-running wage dispute.
Minister Keith Scott and Chief Labour Officer Charles Ogle told reporters following the meeting that the law empowers the Labour Department to nominate a chair of the arbitration panel but the GTU is contending that they have a right to reject anyone they believe is biased.
Guyana’s Labour Law stipulates “…with the consent of both parties to the difference, or of either of them, or without their consent, refer the matter for settlement to the arbitration of an arbitration tribunal consisting of one of more persons appointed by the Minister except that the Minister shall not refer a difference for settlement to arbitration otherwise than with the consent of both parties to the difference, unless he notifies the parties that he is satisfied that the continuance of the difference is likely to be gravely injurious to the national interest”.
Minister Scott said his interpretation of the law is that the Labour Department is empowered under the law to appoint the chairman of the arbitration panel without consent from the GTU.
“The law says that the chairman must come from the Ministry of Social Protection,” he said in response to a question by the News Room.
The Minister added: “Those acts of appointing the chairman is placed squarely, after the breakdown between the two sides, in the province of the Ministry of Social Protection; it’s not a question of acceptance of rejection.”
When asked therefore if their proposal is a done deal, the Chief Labour Officer simply stated: “We have to choose the chairman, that’s all we’re saying.”
According to Minister Scott, Professor Lucas is “highly qualified,” an “academic of the highest regard,” works overseas and is known for being “objective and fair.”
However, when asked about the process used to determine that Professor Lucas is the suitable person to chair the panel and if anyone else was considered for the position, neither Minister Scott and Mr Ogle provided an answer.
GTU General Secretary Coretta McDonald posited that Minister Scott is trying to “bully” the Union into accepting their proposal of Professor Lucas.
“We’re saying to them we have to do our groundwork and according to the document we’re having, it says ‘nominate’. So if we are looking at ‘nominate’, then we need to check the meaning of the word ‘nominate’,” she explained.
GTU President Mark Lyte says the Union will be doing its background check on the Ministry’s nominee and present their views on the proposal at a meeting scheduled for Wednesday at 13:00hrs at the Brickdam Office.
The decision to head into arbitration was made with mutual consent after failed talks on salary increases and other benefits for teachers led to a countrywide strike action which disrupted schools in every region.
In addition to the chairperson, the arbitration panel will consist of nominees from the GTU as well as the Ministry.