Judge orders mediation in Government/GTU standoff

Judge orders mediation in Government/GTU standoff

By Svetlana Marshall

As the fourth week of the nationwide strike action by teachers winds down, Justice Sandil Kissoon this afternoon ordered mediation in the standoff between the Government and the Guyana Teachers’ Union.

In Court, the Judge announced the appointment of Senior Counsel Edward Luckhoo and Senior Counsel Robin Stoby to mediate in talks between the Government and the GTU, with the hope of bringing an end to the 25-day strike, which has disrupted the country’s education system.

The mediation process is expected to begin tomorrow morning at the High Court.

In issuing the order, Justice Kissoon invoked the Civil Procedures Rules 2016, Part 26 (Court Ordered Mediation) amid repeated objections from the Attorney General, Anil Nandlal, who pleaded with the Court to have the Union and the Education Ministry resume “talks” on their own accord.

The Attorney General argued that since 2020, the Ministry of Education and the GTU have been meeting with the last meeting taking place in January. He said the Government is now prepared to meet with the Union as early as tomorrow to resume discussions.

But Justice Kissoon, while acknowledging the framework that the Government and the Union had in place, said it is clear that there was a breakdown in talks which led to the Union initiating industrial action. The Judge pointed out that for 25 days, the two sides did not meet much to the detriment to the nation’s children. 

“I recognize the framework that exists…this [the mediation process] is going to be simply viewed as part of that framework but with the supervision and the assistance of experienced and eminent senior counsel…who recognized that with their wealth of knowledge and experience will be able to bridge the differences between the parties to continue that discussion…but to cross those differences that led to the breakdown, and to take them to the point where there is normalcy,” Justice Kissoon reasoned.   

According to Justice Kissoon, it is important to address the concerns of the Union, and by extension the teachers, so as to have a full resumption of school. 

But the Attorney General while noting that the Government wants a return to normalcy, maintained his earlier position that there was no need for mediation, since the Government was prepared to meet with the Union to address the concerns. 

Attorney General Anil Nandlall

“The government has never resiled or reneged from meeting with the union, and I don’t think that the mediation was necessary because the union can come back and begin negotiations,” the Attorney General said.   

Inside the Court, the Chief Education Officer (CEO) Saddam Hussain, told the Judge that while he is prepared to respect the orders of the Court, he is not optimistic that the mediation process would bear fruit.

But Justice Kissoon made it known that he was optimistic, as he reminded the parties that the issue at hand was not about the Court, but getting the children back to school, and addressing the concerns of the aggrieved teachers. 

President of the GTU, Mark Lyte told the Court that while the two sides were engaged on policy and classroom issues in previous meetings, there was no move by the Government to engage in Collective Bargaining. He said the union is hopeful with the mediation process.

“The hard issue as it relates to teachers’ salary increases that has been our focus. The main reason there is a strike called by the Union is simply because there has been no talks on the teachers’ salary increase”, Lyte said.

He said the start of the mediation process does not mean that the strike has been called off.

“Obviously until we broker ground as to how we go back to the classroom, the strike will continue tomorrow…I think the Judge in his wisdom would have called on two experienced mediators, and other than calling on one person, he has named two persons, and the union will have to have confidence in the judicial system that has so far been operating on fairness and justice”, the GTU President said.

GTU President Mark Lyte

Attorney for the GTU, Darren Wade said the talks that were taking place between the Government and the GTU were not related to any of the issues being raised by teachers.

“As I indicated to the Court, the AG was misinformed, and as a result of his misinformation, he misguided the Court. The talks have been ongoing since 2018, there is an agreement between the Ministry of Education and the Guyana Teachers Union in 2018, when they went on strike, and those talks deal with policy issues, classroom issues. The issues in relation to collective bargaining, the government has been refusing over the last three plus years to meet with the Union to deal with those hard issues. So to come here and say that the Government made attempts to resolve this issue, it is false, it is incorrect”, Wade said.

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