Striking teachers’ pay, Union dues’ deduction: High Court’s interim order blocking Govt from cutting “unfortunate” – AG

The High Court on Thursday granted two conservatory orders: blocking the Government from cutting the salaries of striking teachers, and blocking the Government from moving ahead with a decision to discontinue the deduction of union dues from the salaries of teachers.
It is a decision which Attorney General Anil Nandlall later responded to, labelling it as unfortunate.
In a video statement, the Attorney General pointed out that this is the case of an employer-employee relationship between Government and teachers. If they (teachers) decide to withhold their service, then it is a two-way arrangement where Government can withhold pay.
“I showed very clearly that the law in Guyana and the rest of the Caribbean is that the relationship which exists between Public Servants and teachers and the Government is one of an employee-employer relationship. And the law is, in relation to strike, if the employees decide to withhold their labour and strike – freedom which they have – then the employer is entitled to withhold pay. It’s a very simple equation,” the AG declared.
“I believe it is wrong to order one side to perform their side of the bargain when the other side is not performing their side of the bargain. I believe that decision is unfortunate; so, that conservatory order, in my view, should not have been granted,” Nandlall disclosed.
As it relates to the second order, which relates to the deduction of money from salaries and transferring it to the Union, Nandlall contended that this is a voluntary arrangement which did not come out of a contract. As such, it can be terminated at any time.
“This was a service voluntarily offered by the Government. Government is being paid for it. No one seems to understand how it arose. It certainly did not arise out of the law. It did not arise out of a contract, but it is there for a number of years. We already have a ruling from the High Court and Court of Appeal that the Government has no obligation to offer this service or continue it. That came out of a case in respect of the Government withholding this service in respect to Public Servants,” he reasoned.
The orders were handed down by Justice Sandil Kissoon, and are to remain in effect until the determination of the substantive case, hearing of which has been set to commence on March 20, 2024.
The GTU had approached the High Court to challenge the Government’s decision to deduct the salaries of striking teachers. According to the document filed about two weeks ago, the application includes a wide range of declarations and orders sought from the court.
GTU asked the court for a conservatory order that the status quo remains the same: that is, the Government will not deduct money from the wages and salaries of teachers engaged in any industrial action. The other order and declaration, inter alia, include discrimination, breach of freedom of association, and breach of protection from deprivation of property.
In addition, the GTU asked the court to quash a decision by the Government to stop deducting fees from unionised teachers and remitting same to the union.

Illegal and politically driven
The GTU had organised a countrywide strike by teachers from February 5 to 16, 2024, calling for better pay and working conditions – an action which the Government has labelled as illegal and politically driven.
These actions have continued, and consequently, the Education Ministry has since indicated to the GTU that it would stop deducting dues from the wages and salaries of teachers on behalf of the union. This means the union would now have to collect its fees directly from teachers.
In the application, filed on Tuesday by the GTU and its President Mark Lyte against the Attorney General, the union is asking the court to declare, among other things, that it was discriminated against. It also wants the court to declare that Government’s ceasing to act as an agent for the GTU to deduct union dues is “unreasonable, arbitrary, and capricious”.
The GTU asked the court to issue, “An Order of Certiorari quashing the Government of Guyana’s decision to stop acting as an agent to deduct union dues from the unionised teachers and remitting same to the applicant. An order of mandamus ordering Mrs Shannielle Hoosein-Outar, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Education, to retract her letter dated February 6, 2024 and apologise to the applicant on three consecutive Saturdays in daily newspapers of wide circulation.”

The union also sought a declaration that the Government’s use of the industrial action taken by the GTU as a reason for relinquishing the agency is a show of “bad faith, improper purposes, and irrelevant considerations.”
Meanwhile, the Education Ministry has contended that it has already fulfilled 25 of 41 demands proposed by the GTU in a multi-year agreement; and of the 16 remaining requests, two are specifically for the benefit of only GTU and its Executive Members, while two others are contrary to the laws of Guyana. The other 12 proposals are currently under consideration.
Only last month, the MoE had an engagement with the Union on this matter. Hence, the Labour Ministry has determined that conditions for the strike organised by the GTU have not been met, and as a result, such an industrial action is “wholly illegal and unlawful.” The Government is contending that the countrywide strike action called by the GTU was part of the A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) Opposition’s tactics to mislead teachers for its own political agenda. (G12)