–high-level task force to fast-track salary negotiations
Not only did President David Granger apologise for his administration’s delay in addressing the concerns of teachers and by extension their union [Guyana Teachers Union [GTU], but he has issued a directive that will see the setting up of a high-level Task Force to fast-track salary negotiations.
This development materialised yesterday during a planned meeting between the executive members of the union and President Granger.
Following the meeting, GTU President, Mr. Mark Lyte, was anxious to report that “we had a very fruitful discussion…the President apologised on behalf of the State for not treating with our concerns with a level of urgency….and for such lapses in general.”
Grateful that the President was willing to personally hear the concerns of teachers and moved to immediately put measures in place to address these, Lyte informed that the union has decided to abort its decision to call out its 6,000-odd membership to a nationwide strike action on Thursday and Friday.
“We were able to put together a joint statement and the President instructed that we have a Task Force put together to treat with our salary proposal,” said Lyte.
“We are satisfied that efforts are being made to address the concerns that led to us wanting to take strike action in the first place.”
Up to 2015, teachers were benefitting from a multi-year remuneration agreement which was inked under the PPP/C administration. That agreement expired in December 2015. The very month union representatives said that a proposal for a new agreement was presented to the Ministry of Education. However, negotiations in this regard were stalled on multiple occasions. According to Lyte, while the Ministry has thus far been able to sign off on the non-financial aspects of the proposal, the financial aspect was being stalled.
In its proposal, the union has asked for, among other things, a 40 percent across the board increase for teachers for last year; 45 percent increase for this year and 50 percent for the following three years (2018-2020) for all categories of teachers.
The union in its proposal, too, took into consideration inflation and had 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.”
But Lyte had confided that since the union was only making a proposal, the Ministry was well within its right to offer completely different percentages.
It was the non-progressive negotiations that had caused the union to announce plans to agitate teachers to strike, a move that could have essentially crippled the operation of the public school system. In an attempt to appease the union, a meeting was convened last week Thursday by Minister of Education, Nicolette Henry, whose approach did not meet the satisfaction of union executives. This prompted them to stage a coordinated ‘walk-out’ during which they affirmed the strike action plan.
During the meeting with the Education Minister, the union executives said that they were particularly concerned that from all indication teachers are being lumped into a single ‘public servant’ category.
Coming out from the meeting with Minister Henry, Lyte had informed that the union was advised that teachers will benefit from the recently announced pay increase for other public servants.
“This seems to be another imposition and the union will not accept this,” he said.
The GTU decision to bring an unceremonious end to the meeting with the Education Minister was widely publicised and triggered a meeting between the union and Minister of State, Joseph Harmon, last Friday. At that forum union executives were informed that President David Granger was prepared to meet with them.
According to a joint statement disseminated to the media, during yesterday’s meeting “the two sides agreed to the establishment of a High -Level Task Force comprising on one hand, representatives from the Ministries of Education, Finance, Communities, Public Service and the Presidency and, on the other hand, representatives from the Union.”
The Task Force is expected to be constituted by Wednesday and will hold its first meeting to establish timelines for its meetings and the completion of its work.
Added to this, the statement noted that the union has agreed to provide a complete dossier of its financial and non-financial submissions also by tomorrow.
Before all this, Minister Henry, according to the statement, had consented to taking the issue of the composition of the Task Force to Cabinet today.
It is the expectation of President Granger that the proposed discussions take a holistic view on the improvement of the education sector. The Task Force will also take account of the findings of the Commission of Inquiry into the Education Sector in Guyana and other matters relating to the wellbeing of teachers and students.
Additionally, the statement noted that pending the outcome of the negotiations, teachers will enjoy an interim salary increase ranging from six to eight percent, retroactive to January 1, 2017.
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