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The Ministry of Education, in a statement, has accused the Guyana Teachers Union (GTU) of “opportunistically and disingenuously” staging protest action Tuesday morning. The teachers staged a protest in front of the Ministry of Finance, Main Street, on matters relating to the Mahdia Secondary School female dormitory fire that resulted in the death of 19 girls and the five-year-old son of the dorm mother, and injuries to many students; and outstanding matters relating to improve wages/salary and working conditions.
Minister of Education Ms. Priya Manickchand is contending that given there are some talks with the Union and Ministry workers should not have staged industrial action. According to the ministry’s statement, there is “continuous engagement between the Government of Guyana and the Union.” However, the ministry ignores the internationally acceptable principle that industrial actions, even during engagement, are not uncharacteristic of employer/workers relationship. It is a right.
According to the ministry the protest action was “grandstanding to give Coretta McDonald and her crew over at the APNU/AFC content for their talk shows.”
Village Voice News reached out to GTU General Secretary, Ms. Coretta McDonald, for a comment, given that the statement is a direct attack on her management. The general secretary, who is also A Partnership of National Unity and Alliance for Change (APNU+AFC) Member of Parliament (MP) told this publication the minister continues to engage in discrimination, which has now become the policy of the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) government.
She reminded, the late Mr. Komal Chan, President of the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) was an MP in the PPP/C but when the Union strike the PPP/C government was quick to address the sugar workers’ grievances. Further she said, Mr. Seepaul Narine, President of GAWU, is a sitting government MP and when union strikes the government is quick to resolve the sugar workers’ grievances.
According to McDonald, leaders of GTU and several unions have been actively involved in politics. As a matter of fact, she said, the minister needs to be educated that many of our national leaders were birthed from the trade unions, e.g. Forbes Burnham of the Guyana Labour Union, Dr. Cheddie Jagan of GAWU, etc. In the teaching community, the general secretary said, Mr. Colin Bynoe, who served as Regional Vice President (Berbice) was a MP; Ms. Genevieve Allen, who was Regional Vice President (Demerara), was elected Regional Chairman for Region Four. “The GTU has a history where leaders have played leading roles in politics.”
McDonald said what Minister Manickchand is seeking to do is deny Guyanese their fundamental right to choose which political party they should support and who can best provide political representation for them. This right, McDonald said, is enshrined in the Constitution of Guyana at Article 147. “What the minister is confirming is that teachers who did not vote or do not support the PPP/C will be marginalised by the government,” McDonald stated.
This is a frightening development in Guyana and further confirms President Irfaan Ali ‘one Guyana’ does not include Opposition supporters, she offered. Going further, the general secretary said the arguments she makes in parliament about the PPP/C discrimination are validated in the minister’s statement.
Responding to the ministry’s statement, “the GTU must consider whether it wishes to continuously be used by a failing opposition member Coretta McDonald or if it wants to work to bring benefits to teachers,” McDonald said she not only finds such comment unprofessional and unbecoming of the ministry but also a threat to deny workers their right to choose their leaders.
The Teachers Union, she said, represents all teachers and it matters not their political affiliation. “The Union is about respecting rights not taking them away, and will not be taken down the road the minister hopes she can carry us or in an environment she seems most comfortable performing in.” We will treat all teachers with respect, use respectful language to each other befitting the noble profession and at all times strive to avoid getting into the gutter, regardless of the attacks or who wants us to join them there, she made known.
McDonald said she is also calling on Minister Manickchand to conduct herself in a manner befitting the office she holds, respect the social and workplace rights of all unionised workers, and the civility associated with the teaching profession.