GTU calls off protest to ‘evaluate approach’ 
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Minister of Education Priya Manickchand
Minister of Education Priya Manickchand

AMIDST calls from some teachers for the Guyana Teachers’ Union to terminate its representation due to the “politicising” of recent protest action, GTU President Mark Lyte on Friday officially announced the end of the ‘Boots on the Ground’ protest to evaluate its approach and “strategise for a more impactful advance of the cause.”

Several teachers over the past few days have announced on social media that they are considering cancelling their membership and monthly dues paid to the union. The Ministry of Education (MoE) recently took over the management of a teachers’ benefits programme following complaints from teachers of unfair allocations by the GTU.

The GTU recently failed to secure an injunction against the government’s COVID-19 policy that requires teachers to be vaccinated or to produce a negative PCR test once per week.

GTU President Mark Lyte

Some teachers believe that the recent protest became a political one, particularly through the actions of the GTU General-Secretary Coretta McDonald, who is also a Member of Parliament (MP) for the main opposition, APNU+AFC. The situation even saw derogatory remarks being made against the Minister of Education Priya Manickchand by another Opposition MP, Sherod Duncan.
“I think they are pulling in two different directions instead of working as one. They are making everything political instead of trying to help teachers,” noted one teacher from Region Seven (Cuyuni-Mazaruni).

Another teacher from Region One (Barima-Waini) said: “The protest action was politically hijacked and became very disrespectful and then I no longer supported it. I believe the GTU president realised the same and called it off.”

Given the sensitive nature of the matter and fear of discrimination, the teachers who spoke with this publication asked to remain anonymous. Several teachers have been very vocal over the past few days about losing confidence in the union.

“I don’t have any faith in the union to represent the best interest of teachers. There are too many politically motivated executive members. I have no interest in politics, so as a neutral person I don’t believe we will be represented the way that we should,” the Region One teacher added.

Others have noted that while they do not want to leave the union, there is need for an overhaul of its approach.

GTU General-Secretary and APNU+AFC MP, Coretta McDonald

One teacher from Region Two said: “I have no intention of leaving the union. It saddens me as a teacher that ‘politicians’ try to influence its performance. The GTU has good intentions, but they need to rethink their strategies and not lose focus. They need to reach out more frequently to teachers and have a better system to award benefits to teachers.”

The teacher said that the union has been there for teachers in the past, and they hope that this will continue in the future.

“The union has always put teachers’ interest first. It has fought for teachers under different governments. It saddens me as a teacher that ‘politicians’ try to influence its performance,” the teacher remarked to this publication.

Earlier last week, Minister Manickchand had noted that the union was straying from its purpose. Nonetheless, she expressed her willingness to engage the union, once they reorganise and puts the interests of teachers first.

“I am prepared to engage with the Guyana Teachers’ Union as often as is needed for as long as is needed. At this stage, the union has to decide if they want to engage with us. The union has to understand its role and fight for itself and if they are not prepared to do that, teachers will see it. I hope they fix themselves, they are a longstanding union,” Minister Manickchand had said on Wednesday when she responded to questions on the sidelines of the launch of the Teachers Welfare and Benefits Programme.

The minister noted that the MoE is willing to work with the union even with McDonald on the executive.

“I hold the view that a sensible, decent person can be both an MP and a union leader. In many respects you are doing the same thing, representing people. But when you let your narrow political positions infect what the union should be doing, it’s a problem,” Manickchand noted.

The GTU in a statement said it is looking to re-ignite engagements with the ministry regarding COVID-19 vaccination and several financial issues.

However, Manickchand had noted that previous attempts by the ministry to work along with the union on the COVID-19 vaccination policy did not receive a favourable response from the GTU.

“The union said they’re interested in educating teachers, we should educate teachers more about the vaccine. I said fine, tell me what you want us to do, we will do it. I arranged studio time, I arranged the doctor, and an executive from the union was supposed to come on TV and ask that doctor any question that teachers had raised with them. Twice, I did it. They didn’t show up.

Should I wait for them to show up or should I find another teacher who is interested in serving teachers?” the minister said.

She also pointed out that notwithstanding the union’s executive taking a stance against the vaccines for teachers, many of them are already inoculated.

“The entire executive is fully vaccinated and I commend them for that. But, go to the union’s page. Everything that is bad, all kinds of hearsay is [sic] on the page. Nothing positive about the vaccine. The same type of line the APNU+AFC is taking. All of them are vaccinated, but they are sure that something will happen to anybody else who takes the vaccine,” Manickchand noted.

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