Gov’t warns of ‘legal consequences’ if teachers strike again

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The Ministry of Education has warned of legal consequences if teachers engage in any form of industrial action.

Following nearly two weeks of a countrywide strike which disrupted the beginning of the new school term, the Guyana Teachers’ Union (GTU) and the Ministry of Education agreed to head into arbitration to settle the long-running wage dispute.

Both parties are currently in talks with the Ministry of Social Protection’s Labour Department which has since proposed Professor Leyland Lucas to chair the arbitration panel.

But the GTU is asserting that the Ministry is “bullying” them to accept their proposal and has since threatened to strike again.

In a statement to the media Wednesday, the Education Ministry made it clear that the GTU, by agreeing to arbitration, has committed to not partake in any form of industrial action, in accordance with a Memorandum of Agreement signed in July 1983 regarding the settling and avoidance of disputes.

“During the consideration of the matter in dispute under the grievance procedure, there shall be no strike, stoppage of work whether of a partial or general nature, go slow, boycott, picketing, retardation of production or any other interference with the Ministry’s operations by the Union, nor shall there be any lock out or any other form of interference by the Ministry. Both parties shall endeavour to maintain a state of normal Industrial Relations,” the agreement stated.

The Education Ministry cautioned teachers and their Union to abide by that agreement, or face legal consequences.

“…any action which violates or is adverse to the above shall be illegal for which the Ministry will ensure that the appropriate consequences ensue,” the Ministry warned.

The GTU is slated to meet with the labour officials later today to continue talks on the Ministry’s proposal of Professor Lucas as the chairman of the arbitration panel.

Minister Keith Scott and Chief Labour Officer Charles Ogle contended that they are empowered to appoint the head arbitrator without consent from the GTU. But the GTU is arguing that based on the 1983 Agreement, there must be mutual consent.

Veteran trade unionist, Lincoln Lewis explained in an article in today’s Stabroek News that since the GTU and Ministry consented to a voluntary arbitration, the terms of the Memorandum of Agreement govern the arbitration.

These terms, he said, specifically state that the Minister may “nominate” a chair. GTU Coretta McDonald yesterday suggested that labour officials look up the meaning of the word “nominate”.

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