Labour Minister urges GTU to return to bargaining table to find “middle ground”

Labour Minister Joseph Hamilton

Labour Minister Joseph Hamilton has weighed in on the current teachers’ strike, noting that the Government will be waiting for the Guyana Teachers’ Union (GTU) to return to the bargaining table where both sides can continue discussions and possibly find middle ground.
Contending that the strike action is illegal, Hamilton pointed out that there was never a breakdown in talks during the negotiations between the Union and the Education Ministry, but rather, it was the GTU that decided to exit those talks.
Hamilton further stated that regardless of the Union’s requests, the labour act remains the same and applies to all workers.
“Somehow, people are attempting to treat the teachers’ strike as something different to any other labour relations matter, but it is not… the teachers are employees like all others… the teachers have an employer that is the Ministry of Education. Whether you work at GuySuCo or BOSAI or you work at any other company, the labour relations and the application of the labour act are the same and cannot be treated differently,” Minister Hamilton declared.
In this regard, the Minister highlighted that the only way in which the current situation could be resolved is through engagements with both parties, adding that these industrial matters were only resolved around a table where people consistently articulate views and positions and try to identify a middle ground that is favourable to both sides.
As such, he urged the GTU to return to the bargaining table with the Government, and further stressed that these issues could not be resolved via news articles, the court, or the streets.
“If you remember just a couple of weeks ago, it is the same party today that will call another strike who withdrew themselves from the engagement, because they could not and didn’t get what they think was important to be on the agenda… how do you negotiate in good faith?” he added.
He stressed that the two sides could have different points of view and requests, but finding common ground was important. He further said that no one gets all the things they ask for.
“Somehow, the people who represent the teachers think they must get all the things they ask for. So, the proper thing in my view is for the Union to return to the bargaining table, because, at the end of the day, that is the only way in which labour relations matters are resolved,” the Minister stated.
He noted that the Education Ministry was still willing to engage the GTU to iron out ongoing issues while reiterating that the Government would deal with salary increases from 2024 and not from 2019, which was under the A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) regime.
Teachers resumed their strike on Thursday, but this time around, there will be no protest involving placards outside Government buildings. Instead, those participating in the strike are reportedly staying at home until further notification from the Union.
In light of this development, President Dr Irfaan Ali has posited that over the last year, his Administration has seen an increase in cases in which the views and opinions of unions and associations have been hijacked by the political opposition. Notwithstanding that, he made it known that the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) Government would continue working at the national and policy levels to improve the welfare and well-being of teachers.
He also maintained that the Government, through the Education Ministry, was prepared to negotiate a multi-year agreement that begins in 2024 and goes beyond.
On the other hand, the GTU said, “There will be a total shutdown of the education sector until the demands of teachers are met.”
According to General Secretary Coretta McDonald, the strike action is aimed at negotiating better pay, improved working conditions, and increased benefits for teachers; and is not targeted against learners.
“We are either getting 2019-to-2023, or we are not taking anything else. Because starting from 2024 will bring us to what the CEO (Chief Education Officer) was telling us the other day about the figure he had to offer us, a single-digit figure which I’m sure was not even nine per cent. So, don’t let them tell us that they are prepared to talk from 2024 and onwards,” she declared.
“As teachers, the stand that we are taking here is not a stand against any of our learners, it is not a stand against any of our parents; we have no troubles with them…we have a struggle and a fight with the Government of the day.”
The resumption of strike action by the teachers has resulted from a breakdown of talks between the GTU and the Education Ministry. Teachers returned to the classroom on March 6, following more than four weeks of protest; but, more decisively, following an agreement struck by the GTU and the Education Ministry after the intervention of Justice Sandil Kissoon, who appointed Senior Counsel Edward Luckhoo and Senior Counsel Robin Stoby as mediators following the deadlock.
It was decided that within 48 hours of the agreement, both sides would return to the table to discuss the requests of the GTU, as well as those of the Ministry, but talks again failed.
The Government, through the Education Ministry, has made it clear that it stands ready to engage the Union on the Multi-Year Agreement from 2024 onwards, but the GTU is holding out that talks should cover the years 2019 to 2024.
The Government has already addressed over 20 issues affecting teachers, aimed at improving their working conditions and overall welfare. In fact, at the time of the last strike, President Ali had reminded that he had already met with teachers across the country and outlined the Government’s plan to improve their livelihoods.