Education Ministry ready to continue talks with GTU, but teachers must return to the classroom -Manickchand insists

Education Ministry ready to continue talks with GTU, but teachers must return to the classroom -Manickchand insists

Minister of Education Priya Manickchand today said her Ministry is prepared and ready to continue engaging the Guyana Teachers Union in an effort to end the current strike action by teachers, however, she made it clear that teachers must return to the classrooms to allow the negotiations to take place without any duress.

In an interview at her Brickdam office this afternoon, Minister Manickchand said the Education Ministry is serious about ending the current impasse.

“We are ready, and we have said very clearly the minute that you are ready to honour the agreement that you signed that says once conciliation begins, the teachers, the membership of the union, will return to work in a state of normalcy, and there is no gun to our head saying pay 20% before we begin talking, we are ready to talk. It was we, who initiated this conversation that has been left hanging. The union seems very happy to do lives on Facebook and conversations and group meetings, and I am not sure how that is fulfilling this calling that their membership has collectively, which is to advance the Education of the children in their care”, Manickchand said.

The Education Minister said the current strike could have already ended, adding that the Education Ministry is prepared to see it come to an end.

She noted, however, that while her side is prepared to engage and work out a solution, the Guyana Teachers Union continues to add new conditions to the negotiation process.

She said “the union is refusing to go back into the classroom, in accordance with the (1990) agreement that we signed, and just when it appeared as though that we were going to agree on conditions, because there were four conditions on the table, that we are all comfortable with the terminology, and the language and all of that, then the union came with a surprise, that before we begin talking, they want 20%. And not as a backpay, not 20% for all those years, but 20% while we talk about how much percent they will get on each of the years that they wanted to negotiate for, and so that kind of unreasonableness cannot be acceded to”.

Minister Manickchand said she is mindful of the impact the strike action is having on the nation’s education system, with learners facing more learning loss.

She noted that the Education Ministry, through the Learning Channel and EduFM radio, has prepared material to assist those learners who may be away from their classrooms because of the absence of the teachers. Resource material is also available on the Education Ministry’s website.

With the strike action ongoing since February, except for a brief pause during the Court matter, Minister Manickchand insisted this afternoon that there must be some level of order and respect for the rules of engagement, as the two sides hammer out a way forward.

“We were very firm, 2024 forward, nothing else. They were also firm, 2019 to 2023 and nothing else. The fact that we were at conciliation was to see what both sides can compromise on. We, having written to the Ministry (Labour) have indicated that we understand that compromise would be on this table. But the fact that you got up, the union side, got up and walked away from that table by their actions, must mean that they are not interested in compromise, and I hope people are understanding that and seeing that”, she said.

GTU President – Dr Mark Lyte

On the issue of the Court case that was filed and won by the Guyana Teachers’ Union, blocking the Education Ministry from slashing the salaries of striking teachers and forcing it to continue deducting union dues for the GTU, Manickchand said she believes that the Government’s appeal will be successful. She noted however, that in her opinion, the Judge’s ruling was in relation to the earlier strike action, and not the current strike that has continued after the ruling, even after conciliation was activated.

“The first strike before the judgement was a strike that the Judge deemed to be lawful, because we did not go to conciliation and we did not go to arbitration, we didn’t engage that process, as a result of which, the teachers staying home was lawful, that’s what he (the Judge) said, and we are challenging all of that, but I am saying to you, that if we take everything that the judge said to be true, because of that lawfulness, you can’t deduct salaries and you can’t do these other things. This second strike, post judgement…lets say the judge was right and the union believes that he was right, then what you have engaged in here, is that we have engaged the conciliation process, is an unlawful strike and you are encouraging your members to stay on the road or stay away from the classroom, in a strike where somebody has pronounced that it was unlawful you can deduct salaries, because that is the logical conclusion”, the Education Minister said.

To the the parents of affected students, the Minister said she is saddened that she has not been able to partner with a responsible body in the Guyana Teachers’ Union to bring the strike action to an end.

” I am ready and willing, we have asked and we have practically begged them to come to the table, and we have sat down in many many hours to get to a place where we can put an end to this and that hasn’t been forthcoming, and so I hope they start to understand what the union is doing, and I suspect given the rise in the number of teachers that are in the classroom, that the teachers are beginning to understand that”, Minister Manickchand stated.

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