‘Imposed’ arbitration chairman…Govt warns of legal consequencesBy Davina RamdassThe Guyana Teachers’ Union (GTU) on Wednesday did not turn up at a meeting with the Education Ministry, as the teachers’ saga continued for a fourth week, with the Union now threatening to resume strike action in seven days’ time should the matter regarding the arbitration chairman not resolved. But the Education Ministry is fighting back, promising to take legal action should teachers return to the streets.The General Secretary of the Union, Coretta McDonald, spoke with media operatives after boycotting Wednesday’s meeting where she informed, “The Union has indicated that we are giving a seven days’ notice for us to regularise this situation, if not we will be forced to resume industrial action”.GTU General Secretary Coretta McDonaldIt was explained by her that during the previous meeting between the two parties on Tuesday, the GTU executives were introduced to the chairman for the arbitration panel, much to their surprise, since according to her, the Union was just about to present their nominee for the arbitration panel.“We were told ‘I would have to interrupt this meeting (by Minister Keith Scott) but I must do it at this stage because I have to introduce to you the chairperson for the arbitration panel… it was not the meeting for us to be introduced to any person. As a matter of fact, when we would have identified the three persons I think it would have been official then to introduce to the Ministry of Education and the Guyana Teachers’ Union our panel for the arbitration tribunal,” she said.According to her, the members of the Union expressed their dissatisfaction with what was done during that meeting, especially since they were not provided with any sort of background information about the person who was selected to chair the panel.The person introduced at that meeting as the chairman was a University Professor, Leyland Lucas.McDonald went on to say that she believes Minister Keith Scott, who functions in the Labour Department under the Social Protection Ministry is “confused” about the laws as the GTU will not fall prey to anything but voluntary arbitration.It was reported that the Union feels as though it is being bullied by the Government into accepting the Labour Department’s choice for an arbitrator, who they feel is likely to make biased representations.She went on to explain that the Union has not yet received a response from Government although they are patiently awaiting one.McDonald however stood her ground as she explained the Union is not willing to accept someone to chair the arbitration panel who works with Government. “I am wondering why is this Administration, why is the Department of Labour, why is the Ministry of Education, why are they so fearful about having somebody independent?” she questioned.The General Secretary nonetheless pointed out that the GTU will not issue the name of its nominee for the chairman, until Minister Scott comes to the realisation that it is not his place to appoint, but nominate a chairman for the arbitration panel, since this decision mutually lies in the hands of the Education Ministry and the GTU.Education Ministry fires backIn response to the GTU’s statement where it threatened strike action, the Education Ministry fired back a signed agreement between the two parties which stated “…there shall be no strike, stoppage of work whether of a partial or general nature, go slow, boycott, picketing, retardation of production or any other interference with the Ministry’s operations by the Union…”. This agreement was signed back in July 1983.The Ministry went further to say that it will ensure that appropriate consequences ensue, should teachers disregard the agreement, since their actions will be deemed “illegal”.UnbotheredThe Union hinted its unbothered approach to the Ministry’s statement as the General Secretary disclosed, “The Ministry would always issue statements of threats to teachers…they have to do what they have to do and the GTU will do what the GTU has got to do”.She further said that teachers will not be intimidated by the Ministry’s threats since “you can’t put threats on the table for your children”.McDonald reminded too of the ripple effect the strike action would take should teachers return to the streets. She cautioned that should the Union be forced to resume industrial action, the numbers would be multiplied significantly as various trade unions which are tied to other unions have expressed their support in a call for better wages and working conditions.“If you recognise what has been happening from 2015 to now, we’ve been having one May Day Rally so that should say something to you”.