Teachers’ union in Guyana takes government to court

February 15, 2024
CMC photo

The Guyana Teachers’ Union (GTU), is taking the government to Court over its objection of the two-week running industrial/strike action and a series of reproach which the union now deems as discriminatory and a breach and violation of key rights.

In a fixed date application, filed on Tuesday, Attorney General Anil Nandlall was named as the respondent as the GTU seeks to quash the government’s decision to discontinue the deduction of union dues from teachers’ salaries monthly and a declaration that the strike is legal.

The GTU is also contesting, among other things, the government’s decision to deduct monies from the salaries of striking teachers for the days they were absent from the classroom.

Hours after the application was filed, Nandlall appearing on his “Issues in the News” Facebook programme, said he is prepared to defend all the decisions the government has taken with regard to the strike.

The GTU is seeking a total of 18 reliefs; the union is alleging breach of their right to freedom of association and assembly; their right to protection from deprivation of property; and their right to be heard before determining that it will cease the practise of performing as an agent of the union to deduct union dues from the wages and salaries of teachers.

But on Thursday, the Attorney General outlined the three general grounds for the application: the decision to cease the deduction of union dues, the decision to deduct the salaries of striking teachers, and a willingness to engage in the continued collective bargaining process.

On all three grounds, Nandlall says the government’s decisions are lawful.

On the first ground, he cited the case of the Guyana Public Service Union v Nanda Gopaul (number 584W/2000-Demerara), where Chief Justice, the late Ian Chang delivered a judgement that instructed that “in respect of the deduction of union dues in particular, the G.0.G was merely acting as the agent of the union to withhold and remit such dues to the union.

“[This] has already been settled by our courts and declared to be lawful, the severance of that relationship, that is,” Nandlall said.

He insisted that the government has a right to levy a deduction against workers who are absent from work without permission, leave or authorisation.

He  said the teachers must bear the conditionalities and burden of the freedom to strike among which is the right of the employer to deduct wages from the worker who is absent from work.

Speaking briefly on collective bargaining, Nandlall said the government is not interested in antagonistic relationships.

“We want to work with the unions but we will not do so in bad faith, under duress, under any form of undue influence…we want to bargain fairly and that is what the law provides for and we are not in any way reeling from that obligation,” Nandlall said, insisting that there are protocols and established terms of engagement.

But the GTU’s Attorney,  Darren Wade listed 55 grounds for the application supported by Section 5 (1) (a), (h), and (q) of the Judicial Review Act 2010.

He listed a series of exchanges between the GTU and the government dating back to 2020 when the Ministry of Education and the GTU began engagement on a proposed multi-year agreement that demands salary increases and duty-free concessions, among other things.

The GTU believes talks have broken down and the process should move to arbitration but the Education and Labour Ministries maintain that talks are still ongoing.


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