Teachers across the country were Sunday put on notice that should they participate in Monday’s ‘isolation day’, they will be regarded as absent from work, abandoning their students and a gross dereliction of duty.
This is according to Labour Minister Jospeh Hamilton who reasoned that the call for an ‘isolation day’ which he likened to a strike, lacks legality as he addressed the country in a televised broadcast via the state-owned National Communications Network (NCN).
In a January 8, 2022 letter, the Guyana Teachers Union (GTU) called for an ‘isolation day’ to be held on Monday, January 10 where there will be no formal face-to-face or virtual teaching.
This action is said to be in response to the rising COVID-19 positive cases which has resulted in teachers, students and support staff testing positive after face-to-face teaching recommenced one week ago.
But the Labour Minister has said that while teachers are legally allowed to engage in industrial action, the union has failed to follow the lawful procedure for calling the strike.
Referencing the Labour Act, Hamilton said, “There is no prohibition regarding strike action by teachers and they can exercise freedom to strike… but procedures for proposing industrial action should be in keeping with the Collective Labour Agreement between the Ministry of Education and the GTU,” Hamilton explained.
He said the common labour practice is that a period of notice should be given to the employer before any strike.
Additionally, Hamilton said labour relations practices would require the GTU to register its grievance with the ministry and enter a period of discourse.
The union has already noted that it has written to the Chief Education Officer Marcel Hutson but Hamilton said there is no report of any formal discussions being undertaken regarding the COVID-19 situation in schools.
“Before initiating any industrial action the union should seek consolidation services in keeping with the Labour Act… and have the matter referred for settlement with an arbitration panel,” Hamilton further explained.
“Teachers in Guyana ought to be properly advised that heeding the call of the GTU may be considered unauthorised absence,” he concluded.
He said the Ministry of Education will be under no lawful obligation to pay teachers who stay away from work on Monday and any subsequent days.
“I would hope that all teachers recognise that going on a strike without a legal framework would ensure that you are not paid for the day and days you abandon your post.”