The Guyana government has condemned the decision by teachers to heed the call of their union to embark on three-day strike action on Wednesday, describing the action as “irresponsible and not reflective of the realities of the present state of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic nor the needs of the nation’s children”.
The Guyana Teachers Union (GTU) called out the teachers on the second day of the new school term over the government’s vaccination policy and the unpreparedness of many schools to return to face-to-face learning.
The decision to take industrial action was made during a meeting on Tuesday night between the union and teachers with the GTU condemning the government’s vaccination policy that unvaccinated teachers would be prohibited from entering the school compound unless they provide a recent negative COVID-19 PCR test result.
The government’s position has resulted in scores of teachers across the country being locked out of the school compound and in some instances, the police being called in to remove them from the area.
The GTU, which is part of a group of trade unions that have filed a lawsuit against the government’s policy, has accused the authorities of being high-handed in its approach while ignoring the concerns of teachers. The Union has advised that for the next three days teachers will be on strike from all types of teaching including virtual sessions.
The union maintains that teachers should be allowed the choice to be vaccinated and if they do not want to be vaccinated, the Ministry of Education should stand the costs for the regular PCR COVID-19 test that it is demanding in the absence of vaccination.
But in a statement, the Ministry of Education said it has taken note of “the uncaring and unconscionable” call for strike action by the GTU adding “we condemn this action as irresponsible and not reflective of the realities of the present state of the COVID-19 pandemic nor the needs of the nation’s children”.
In setting out what it said to be the “facts’ the ministry said the students have been home from school for over 17 months and despite the world’s best efforts, there has been a well-chronicled resultant loss of learning and school-leaving.
“Here in Guyana, we have evidence of significant learning loss and drop-outs at every level, with more than 600 drop-outs recorded at the primary level alone. We are working assiduously to arrest this situation and reverse this reality for our children who have already fallen victim to these phenomena.
“We want all of our children engaged and in school and are working towards achieving this safely. There is no mandatory requirement for children to be vaccinated to return to classrooms,” the ministry said, noting that “teachers have been accorded the status of a most valuable resource and teachers were paid their full salary and benefits throughout the 17 months”.
“There were no salary cuts or layoffs as in so many other countries. Vaccination of teachers is not mandatory and there are clear guidelines issued for those who do not want to be inoculated all of this to keep teachers, their families, and our children safe.
“The Government of Guyana has spared no effort to make vaccines available to every member of the public and return the country to a state of normalcy. Multiple types and brands of vaccines are still available and easily accessible to all Guyanese,” the statement said.
The government said that there is no grievance or basis for strike action and is urging all teachers, parents, and administrators “not to fall prey to the political machinations …the small cabal of self-serving individuals who have hijacked the Guyana Teachers Union”.
The ministry said it wanted to remind all that teachers who do not work do not get paid.
The re-opening of schools comes amidst a new surge in COVID-19 cases with the country reporting 654 deaths and 26,772 positive cases since March last year.