President Ali urges teachers, GTU to ‘return to the process’

says gov’t will not be bullied into negotiations

President, Dr Mohamed Irfaan Ali is once again urging Guyana Teachers Union (GTU) to call off their illegal strike and return to the classrooms to allow the resumption of negotiations to address the needs of the teachers.

Speaking during a live broadcast on Saturday, the president said that since assuming office, the government has had more than 25 meetings with the GTU.

“In these meetings with the union, 30 out of the 41 requests made by the union was fulfilled. Apart from the 30, 28 additional non-requested benefits were implemented by the government and the Ministry of Education,” he pointed out.

Additionally, last year, the head of state directly engaged with teachers from the 10 administrative regions. This engagement gave teachers the platform to discuss the state of the education system and address challenges faced.

In a statement issued on Thursday last, the Ministry of Education made it clear that a ‘long and settled’ practice of meeting monthly with the GTU has been ongoing since 11th August 2020. The release stated that at these meetings, multiple issues relating to the welfare of teachers and improvements in the administration of the education sector have been addressed, including salary issues.

The last of these engagements took place on 31st January 2024, with the next meeting scheduled to take place on 21st February 2024.

As a result, the president in his address said that the responsibility is in the hands of the teachers and the GTU.

“If we are to be a democratic and law-abiding society, a society that stands on the pillar of justice, fairness and honesty, then we have to be faithful to the institutions of our society,” the president said.

Moreso, the negotiations between the government and the teachers were still ongoing. It is with this in mind that President Ali maintains that the industrial action is not legal. 

“A process was underway. A system was underway. And the authority that was vested with determining the actions of the teachers, that is, the Chief Labour officer, made it pellucidly clear that the actions advanced by the teachers were in breach of the procedure that was in place,” the head of state explained.

From the onset, the government has also said that the strike was politically orchestrated, and President Ali doubled down on this position in his address on Saturday. He said that for the meetings to continue, the GTU must end the strike.

“We cannot be politically bullied. There is a system, an ongoing process. You cannot return to that ongoing process under duress. If the union is serious about returning to the process, then they will have the teachers back in school and proceed to the process that was underway,” he underscored.

President Ali continued, “This is the point we have been making consistently, that the meetings that were planned must be allowed to continue, and that is where issues relating to the welfare of teachers will continue to be discussed, but those who are aligned with the leadership of the GTU allow political directives to supersede the natural course of things, to influence their behaviour.”

In February, the GTU filed court proceedings to block the government from deducting from the salaries of teachers who have been on strike since February 5. 

On Wednesday last, High Court Judge Sandil Kissoon ordered mediation between the government and the GTU. That process has begun, with a view of putting an end to the industrial action and returning teachers to their classrooms.