Labour Minister calls out GTU for “illegal” isolation day strike
– says teachers who abandon duties will not be paid
The recent call by the Guyana Teachers Union (GTU) for teachers across Guyana to abscond from face-to-face or virtual classes today, is not being taken lightly by the Government with Labour Minister Joseph Hamilton making it clear the strike action is illegal.
In a video statement, Hamilton decried the GTU’s call to strike and urged teachers not to be duped. Hamilton explained that by definition, a strike is a collective refusal by a body of workers to work under the conditions set out by their employers. While the GTU may not have expressly called for a strike, Hamilton noted that their call for a “day of isolation” falls under the definition.
According to Hamilton, the Public Utilities Undertaking and Public Health Services Arbitration Act mandates that strike action must also be inspired by a dispute, with the objective of compelling employers to accept terms of conditions.
“The Act applies to trade disputes in essential services. Section 12 of the Act prohibits strikes from workers who are in essential services, in connection with any trade dispute, unless conditions under the Act are satisfied.”
“Are teachers prohibited to strike? The schedule of the (Act) defines essential services as including health care workers. However, teachers are not classified as essential workers under the law,” he said.
The Minister noted that while teachers are not prohibited under the Act from striking, certain procedures must be followed before strikes can be held. Hamilton noted that based on the law, any industrial actions taken by teachers must be governed by the collective labour agreement.
“It is common labour practice that a period of notice be given to the employer before any industrial action is taken. Moreover, labour relations practice requires GTU to register its grievance with the Ministry of Education and enter a period of discourse before initiating any industrial action.”
Minister Hamilton noted that while there have been reports of GTU writing to Chief Education Officer Marcel Hutson, there have been no reports of any formal discussions commencing between the two sides.
Hamilton also explained that Section 4 of the Labour Act sets out the process to be followed by GTU before its call for a strike, including seeking the conciliation services of the Ministry of Labour where the Minister has the power to enquire into the grievance and refer the matter to arbitration.
“Teachers in Guyana ought to be properly advised that heeding the call of the GTU to participate in the isolation day may be considered as an unauthorised absence from work, abandonment of their students and a gross dereliction of duties. In this regard, the Ministry of Education will be under no lawful obligation to pay persons who are absent on Monday 10.”
“I would hope that all teachers would recognise that going on a strike without legality would consequently ensure that you’re not paid for the day or days you abandon your post,” Minister Hamilton said.
Reports indicate that GTU issued separate letters over the weekend. In one, it called on the Ministry of Education to close schools for 14 days from today and conduct an assessment of the COVID-19 situation, during which teachers would engage learners virtually.
In its second letter, GTU President Mark Lyte informed teachers that the Union had designated today (January 10) as “Isolation Day” where no face-to-face or virtual teaching would be conducted. Efforts to contact Lyte for a comment proved futile.
Presently, all Grade Six pupils are being allowed to attend face-to-face classes on a daily basis since they are scheduled to sit the National Grade Six Assessment (NGSA) later in the year. In addition, secondary school students are also being engaged in face-to-face learning.