Minister within the Ministry of Social Protection, Keith Scott, who has responsibility for labour, has apologised for branding teachers as “selfish and uncaring” days before they embarked on a countrywide strike for better salaries.
Scott had made the remarks on August 31, 2018 at the bursary awards ceremony of the Guyana Public Service Co-operative Credit Union (GPSCCU).
He was subsequently met with a backlash not only from teachers, but from the public, other groups and trade unions after the matter was reported in the Sunday Stabroek.
“I would like to offer my sincerest apologies to the teachers of Guyana. I regret making such an inflammatory and hurtful statement. I have always and will always hold the teachers of our nation in the highest regard.
“It was never my intention to be disrespectful of, or to downplay the legitimate industrial actions taken by the Guyana Teachers’ Union (GTU) on behalf of its membership and teachers generally. I humbly and sincerely apologise,” Scott stated in a release.
Scott had joined the deliberations when the GTU sent a formal letter to the Ministries of Education and Social Protection about a planned countrywide strike.
He had then encouraged the union to embrace the option of cordial discussions, although he had then found the strike to be “premature and to be an absolute breach of faith” as discussions between the involved parties were still in progress.
“Throughout the meeting and more so, towards the end thereof, you expressed a willingness to continue dialogue and at no time indicated that your union was contemplating industrial action, which as you are aware, ought to be [in] conformity with an established grievance procedure,” Scott had stated in correspondence to the union.
The strike, nonetheless, began on August 27 and since then several meetings have been held with the the union attending, the Ministries of Education and Social Protection and other labour officials.
After the talks between the parties failed, the matter was expected to be taken to conciliation.
However, the GTU has since remained adamant in its intention to move to the arbitration phase, insisting that the conciliation process has been compromised.
The GTU has contended that Scott, along with the Chief Labour Officer (CLO) Charles Ogle and other labour officials,had all represented the Education Ministry at previous negotiation meetings.
On Monday, Education Minister Nicolette Henry responded to the stalled negotiations as a result of the union’s decision.
“Due process is required and when going through these procedures, we don’t have an opportunity to cherry pick which stage we go through. We have to go through stage by stage and exhaust each stage before we arrive at the other stage. That is the procedure by which we’re guided.”
It is unknown when the parties are set to meet again, but Henry has since stated that given the urgency and importance of the matter, it is expected that those involved will soon facilitate the resumption of dialogue.