GTU takes Gov’t to Court; Attorney General insists all actions lawful  


By Kurt Campbell

The Guyana Teachers’ Union (GTU), headed by Mark Lyte and represented by attorney Darren Wade made good on its promise to take the government to Court over its objection of the two-week running industrial/strike action and a series of reproach which the union now deems as discriminatory and a breach and violation of key rights.

Teachers strike continues in Region Two (Photo: News Room/February 15, 2024)

In a fixed date application, filed on Tuesday, Attorney General Anil Nandlall was named as the respondent as the GTU seeks to quash the government’s decision to discontinue the deduction of union dues from teachers’ salaries monthly and a declaration that the strike is legal.

The GTU is also contesting, among other things, the government’s decision to deduct monies from the salaries of striking teachers for the days they were absent from the classroom.

Hours after the application was filed on Tuesday, Nandlall appearing on his “Issues in the News” Facebook programme, said he is prepared to defend all the decisions the government has taken with regard to the strike.

The GTU is seeking a total of 18 reliefs; the union is alleging a breach of their right to freedom of association and assembly; their right to protection from deprivation of property; and their right to be heard before determining that it will cease the practice of performing as an agent of the union to deduct union dues from the wages and salaries of teachers.

But the Attorney General on Tuesday outlined the three general grounds for the application: the decision to cease the deduction of union dues, the decision to deduct the salaries of striking teachers, and a willingness to engage in the continued collective bargaining process.

On all three grounds, Nandlall says the government’s decisions are lawful.

On the first ground, he cited the case of the Guyana Public Service Union v Nanda Gopaul (number 584W/2000-Demerara), where Chief Justice, the late Ian Chang delivered a judgment that instructed that “in respect of the deduction of union dues in particular, the G.0.G was merely acting as the agent of the union to withhold and remit such dues to the union.

“[This] has already been settled by our courts and declared to be lawful, the severance of that relationship, that is,” Nandlall said.

He insisted that the government has a right to levy a deduction against workers who are absent from work without permission, leave or authorization.

Teachers strike continues in Region Two (Photo: News Room/February 15, 2024)

“That is standard industrial law, labour law and standard industrial practice.

“Persons are confusing the right to strike with a freedom to strike…the constitution of Guyana, Article 137 confers on every worker a freedom to strike, not to right to strike and there is a huge distinction between the two concepts,” the Attorney General argued.

He said the teachers must bear the conditionalities and burden of the freedom to strike among which is the right of the employer to deduct wages from the worker who is absent from work.

Speaking briefly on collective bargaining, Nandlall said the government is not interested in antagonistic relationships.

“We want to work with the unions but we will not do so in bad faith, under duress, under any form of undue influence…we want to bargain fairly and that is what the law provides for and we are not in any way reeling from that obligation,” Nandlall said, insisting that there are protocols and established terms of engagement.

The AG claimed that it is the Teacher’s Union that is not engaging by established protocols.

But there is more to the teachers’ court action; they are seeking a declaration that the government’s claim that the GTU’s industrial action is illegal is unfounded and unfair; a declaration that the government’s claims that the GTU made threats and cyberbullied teachers who are not part of the industrial actions is unfounded and unfair; a declaration that the claim by the government that the GTU used sentiments that are racist and rhetoric that is ethnically divisive during its industrial action is unfounded and unfair.

Teachers strike continues in Region Two (Photo: News Room/February 15, 2024)

But Nandlall maintained that the government has “dealt reasonably with this union in accordance with good industrial relations and practices and procedures and in compliance with the written terms of engagement that govern the relations between the two entities.”

Wade, on behalf of the GTU, listed 55 grounds for the application supported by Section 5 (1) (a), (h), and (q) of the Judicial Review Act 2010.

He listed a series of exchanges between the GTU and the government dating back to 2020 when the Ministry of Education and the GTU began engagement on a proposed multi-year agreement that demands salary increases and duty-free concessions, among other things.

The GTU believes talks have broken down and the process should move to arbitration but the Education and Labour Ministries maintain that talks are still ongoing.

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