GTU describes Government’s plan to slash salaries of striking teachers as “wicked and dictatorial”

GTU describes Government’s plan to slash salaries of striking teachers as “wicked and dictatorial”

By Svetlana Marshall

The President and the General Secretary of the Guyana Teachers’ Union (GTU), lashed out at the Ministry of Education today over its threats to cut the salaries of teachers who are on the picket line, and to discontinue the deduction of union dues from the salaries of the teachers.

The nationwide strike by teachers entered its second day today with thousands of teachers staying away from their classrooms across the country.

At a protest outside the Ministry of Education’s Brickdam office, GTU General Secretary, Coretta McDonald told scores of teachers and supporters the actions and threats of the Government are reflective of a “wicked and dictatorial” administration. 

“This is no threat, this is what we are saying, we will close all of the schools across this country, because this is high class wickedness. If you are not oppressors, then you will give us what we want, but the PPP Government is a bunch of oppressors. They always feel that they can trample on the rights of people,” McDonald told the teachers. 

The Government in a correspondence to the Union today indicated that it will no longer perform the task of being an agent for the collection of union dues, which are remitted to the GTU.

The GTU General Secretary said the move, which is intended to cripple the operations of the union, would only force the union to find other avenues to collect its dues, including the use of MMG services.  

Noting that this is not the first time that the Government has taken this type of action, McDonald said no such actions are taken when sugar workers strike.

Amid threats by the Education Minister Priya Manickchand that teachers on strike will see their salaries being cut over the strike action which the Government sees as illegal, the union’s General Secretary said systems will be put in place to cushion that impact.

“We know from ever of old, in Guyana, in the Caribbean, all over, as long as workers are on strike, wicked governments would want to deduct the teachers’ pay or other workers’ pay, and we would have had enough time to sit, and look at all of these issues because we know the devils we are playing with. So, we sat and we organized and we put systems in place because we know as long as our teachers come out here, they would want to cut the teachers’ salaries. So, systems are in place to deal with our teachers, and to compensate them,” the General Secretary said.  

The government has said that the strike is illegal on the grounds that the union and the Education Ministry are still in talks, and the conditions for conciliation and arbitration have not been met. But the GTU General Secretary rubbished that argument. 

“For the strike to be illegal, it means that we were not doing anything at all. But since we were engaging the Ministry of Education as well as the Ministry of Labour as well as the Office of the President and all the talks failed. We wrote the Ministry of Labour asking for conciliation, they ignored us. We wrote them asking for arbitration, they ignored us. Now, you tell me, why would we be writing for these processes to be kicked in, if we were still talking?” McDonald reasoned. 

Meanwhile, GTU President Mark Lyte in a social media statement this morning, said it is clear that the Government’s latest actions are meant to silence the union and the teachers it represents. He reminded that the strike action is for the betterment of all teachers, all across Guyana.

He dismissed the Education Minister’s repeated statements that the strike is illegal. Lyte said the Government simply believe that through intimidation and threats, it will get its way.

President of the Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC), Norris Witter, was among those standing in solidarity with the teachers on the picket line today. 

Witter told reporters that from their utterances, it is clear that the Minister of Labour Joseph Hamilton and the Minister of Education Priya Manickchand are strangers to basic industrial relations principles, and the laws, conventions, charters and treaties governing industrial relations. 

“To put it mildly, they appear to be rookies when it comes to the questions of industrial relations. And if one were to ask them the question, as to what constitutes an illegal strike…they would have had a difficult time responding to such a question,” the veteran trade unionist said. 

He said GTUC will not sit idly by and allow the Government to undermine the GTU.

“There is a danger, whenever the State or whenever representative of a State characterizes a strike as being either illegal or politically motivated. It is suggesting that there is a devious plan a foot not only to undermine the union but to take political action against that union. But I want to say this, let them go ahead, we are going to mobilize the workers, from every nook and cranny to deal with this devious, wicked and satanic motive of this regime,” Witter warned. 

Meanwhile, the Education Ministry, while maintaining that the strike is illegal, has said that it has had little impact on education system, though reports coming in indicate that hundreds of classrooms remain without teachers today as more teachers opted to join the strike action.

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