The Guyana Teachers Union (GTU) is questioning whether the Ministry of Education views the welfare of teachers as an important factor.
“We are becoming worried as to how this Ministry sees the teachers…their action doesn’t seem to see teachers as important stakeholders. The welfare of teachers doesn’t seem to be a matter of urgency,” said GTU President, Mr. Mark Lyte.
Lyte was at the time responding to a delay in continued negotiations between the Ministry and the Union for a renewed Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) regarding a remuneration package for teachers for the period 2016 through 2020.
A previous remuneration MOU inked between the previous Government and the union expired at the end of last year.
The Union, under the leadership of Lyte, crafted a new proposal which was for the first time brought to the attention of the Ministry last year end. Following the review of the proposal, Lyte said that at least two meetings, one in January and one in February (with the latter being attended by the Minister), were had during which the proposal was discussed.
This, according to Lyte, constituted a start of negotiations, though it has been stalled for the past two months.
Lyte yesterday said that it was rather troubling when he learnt that the Minister had informed the media that negotiations regarding the union’s proposal had not started.
The Minister, responding to a query on the progress of the negotiation, said, “I wouldn’t call that negotiations…I have been having some discussions with (GTU President) Mark Lyte and people in the Union and I’m hoping whatever difficulties they have we can resolve them…”
In insisting that no negotiations have started, the Minister added, “We haven’t really reached the stage of negotiations in the sense that they bring their documents and we address their documents …that is going to be a higher stage of the conversation.”
He, however, admitted that the discussions with the Union have thus far yielded a commitment on the part of Government to pay teachers the debunching money that the Union had long been advocating for.
But according to Lyte, “I think the Minister was just trying to escape a direct question. We have had two formal sessions of discussion regarding our proposal. When you present your proposal it goes through a round of talks and at every stage it is considered an aspect of the negotiation…whether it takes the form of a discussion, that we will accept certain things or that we seek certain things, it is part of the process which would not take one session. It would take many meetings to become conclusive,” Lyte asserted.
He explained that when the negotiations are completed at the ministerial level then the subject Minister is tasked with preparing a report which is taken to Cabinet for its approval.
“Based on our last discussions they (the Ministry) were supposed to do some internal talk and then get back to us and the process has been amicable,” Lyte added.
But according to him, it has been taking quite some time to have a continuance of the meeting. “They are always busy and their agenda is always packed and the Union is becoming worried with ‘where do we stand in the whole process?’
“If the Ministry is going to be too busy to meet with the Union then that sends a message about how the Ministry sees the union and teachers as a whole. Are teachers not important?” Lyte questioned.
“We understand that the Minister has 1,001 meetings and cannot put the Union’s proposal in the forefront of his plans. But the Minister doesn’t have to deal with everything…There are aspects that other officials can deal with in the Minister’s absence such as Whitley Council and class sizes,” Lyte considered.
He, however, acknowledged that there are some aspects of the negotiations that require the Minister’s attention. Part of the negotiations will have to be brought to the attention of the Education Minister and even the Minister of Finance.
The Union is this year is negotiating for a 40 per cent across the board increase in salary for teachers. It is also hoping for a 45 per cent increase for next year (2017) and 50 per cent for the following three years (2018-2020) for all categories of teachers.
In a proposal seen by this publication, the Union has taken into consideration inflation and made it clear that “should there be inflation higher than the percentage agreed upon, then the teachers/teacher-educators must get the benefit of the difference.”
However, when asked whether the GTU-proposed 40 per cent increase across the board increase for public school teachers this year would be feasible, Dr. Roopnaraine said, “frankly I would like to give the teachers even more but you know we have teachers to deal with, we have nurses to deal with…if you begin to raise the salaries of teachers in the classroom, the nurses are going to say what about us?”
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