–says Labour Minister
MINISTER of Labour, Joseph Hamilton, has said that the recent strike action by teachers, in protest of the government’s gazetted COVID-19 vaccination policy, is ‘illegal’ since there is no grievance with the employer but with a policy enacted by the government.
Speaking during a talk show titled, “Let’s Talk Politics,” hosted by Director of Public Affairs at the Office of the Prime Minister, Michael Gordon, Hamilton said his conclusion is based on legal advice obtained by Ministry of Labour.
Referencing a recent call by the Guyana Teachers Union (GTU) for strike action by teachers, and protests held last week outside of the Ministry of Education offices, Minister Hamilton said that industrial actions are taken when employees have grievances with their employers. However, the vaccination policy was not put in place by the employer of teachers.
“I am saying, as Minister of Labour, advised by legal counsel and the Chief Labour Officer, that everything about what they call a strike or protest is out of order. Screaming and chanting at the Ministry of Education office and the Minister of Education is counterproductive because they have no grievance with the Ministry of Education,” the minister reasoned.
He added: “Strike is determined based on a grievance employees have with their employer. The Teachers’ Union has no grievance that they have articulated with their employer. We are paying careful attention to the matter.”
Minister Hamilton went on to say that the strike action is even more illegitimate because the GTU has not followed the requisite procedures that govern industrial actions.
In Guyana, industrial action taken by employees is governed by trade union laws; however, unions are required to give notice to employers of the impending industrial action, and explain the grievances.
“When you have a strike, you have to write to your employers explaining what the grievance is and give the employer time to come and sit down and discuss the matter, and if they fail to reach an amicable resolution then the Ministry of Labour comes in to mediate.
“But you can’t as a teacher, strike against COVID-19 regulations issued by the Ministry of Health, and gazetted. Your employer, the Ministry of Education, has done nothing to you,” Hamilton explained.
Hamilton advised teachers and other public servants, who are considering strike action, to carefully consider what they are doing, particularly because they will not be paid for the days that they do not work.
“The fact that you have no grievance is saying to the government that you are adjudicating your responsibility to work, so, therefore, you can’t be paid,” Hamilton said.
The minister warned teachers and public servants to be watchful and not be led astray by union officials, many of whom are politically motivated, vaccinated and are not risking their lives or livelihood.
“When they follow McDonald, they must know that every month Coretta collects a cheque from the Parliament building as a MP, so she’s in a position to sustain herself and pay her bills. And I’m sure also she is paid by the union as General Secretary, so she has two sources of income. Her bread is well buttered,” Hamilton said.
Through the updated COVID-19 Emergency Measures published in the Official Gazette earlier this month, Guyanese, including employees, are currently required to be vaccinated to access public and privately-owned buildings.
But vaccination is not mandatory, since persons could either be vaccinated or produce a negative COVID-19 PCR test to access facilities; this also applies to teachers and other public servants.
Exemptions to this policy, however, are afforded to certain categories of persons including pregnant women and persons suffering from certain underlying conditions.
“There is no mandatory vaccination policy. There are some things we have articulated and we must do that because we have a responsibility as a government to protect the state,” Minister Hamilton related.
The government’s policy is that vaccination is ideal for the protection of the public, with most persons advocating against the vaccines having no sound argument.
“The fallacy in all of this is that persons saying they have difficulties taking the COVID-19 vaccines, they have scars from vaccinations they have taken all their lives. They have taken their children to be vaccinated,” Hamilton said.
The minister further said that Guyana is not the only country where the government is pushing vaccination requirements of public service employees.
President of the United States of America, Joe Biden, just last week, issued an executive order with plans for mandatory vaccination at various levels.
And, locally, though some trade unionists have opposed the vaccination, President of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Guyana (FITUG), Carvil Duncan, supported the vaccination drive.
“Notwithstanding the fact that vaccination is a voluntary thing, what we need to realise is that by taking the vaccine you are not saving only your life, but you are also saving the life of persons around you,” Duncan said.