By Sharmain Grainger
Not only has government rejected the majority of the recommendations detailed in the salary proposal for teachers, which was negotiated by a government-appointed high-level Committee, but it has even failed to agree on a percentage increase for the years that teachers have been waiting.
Public school teachers have been waiting since 2016 for their union, the Guyana Teachers’ Union [GTU], to ink a multi-year agreement with government for them to receive enhanced salary and non-salary benefits. But following an unfavourable meeting between union representatives and government officials yesterday, the long wait will end with a full-blown strike action.
Following a meeting at the GTU’s Woolford Avenue, Georgetown headquarters, a decision was taken for teachers to engage two weeks of strike action. This will translate to teachers staying away from school for pre-term activities [the week before school reopens] and the first week of school [the first week of September].
“Nobody will go to school for pre-term and nobody will go to school for the first week,” GTU President, Mr. Mark Lyte, related to media operatives yesterday.
Several teachers, gathered at the union’s headquarters, passionately shared their frustration with the union’s leadership, as they insisted that strike action was the only way to go, since government has failed to live up to its many promises to ensure that they too benefit from “a good life.”
According to many of the teachers, not only has the government they voted into power failed them, but it has even gone as far as reducing them “the moulders of the nation” to insignificant beings.
“It was this government, while in opposition, who said that teachers were important,” the GTU President reminded the gathering, as he called on the union members to decide the way forward.
“We are now mandated by our members to take industrial action,” said Lyte, who noted that the union will inform the Ministry, by way of writing, of its decision. He noted that while the initial action will be for two weeks, government’s failure to reconsider its position will see the union deciding the nature of continued industrial action.
“The only way this will change is if something is accepted by the union…this situation will not change unless government says to us this is what we are offering, and we accept,” Lyte insisted.
Earlier this week the union was invited to meet with Minister of Education, Ms. Nicolette Henry, who was tasked with presenting government’s position after considering the recommendations of the high-level committee.
The near three-hour long meeting held at the Education Ministry’s 26 Brickdam boardroom yesterday, saw Minister Henry and several of her officers, Senior Social Protection Minister, Ms. Amna Ally, Minister within the Social Protection Ministry, Keith Scott, and several government advisers, meeting with the GTU President and members of his executive.
At the meeting, the union representatives were informed that government has proposed offering teachers a “ball park figure” to facilitate an increase in salaries for all teachers based on the current salary scale.
Since the expiration of a multi-year agreement at the end of 2015 which the union had inked with the previous administration, moves were made to submit a proposal to the APNU-AFC government detailing salary and non-salary benefits for teachers. In relation to the salary proposal, the union had asked for a 40 percent across the board increase for teachers for 2016; 45 percent increase for last year and 50 percent for this year and the following two years (2019-2020) for all categories of teachers.
But Lyte divulged yesterday that “in terms of our salary, the government is proposing only $700 million for a payout to teachers, and that they would provide a specialist to work out how teachers will be paid.”
Not only were the union representatives irked by government’s proposal to bring a ‘specialist’ on board to further negotiate a living wage for teachers, but Lyte said that it was especially disturbing when it was revealed that government was only prepared to pay teachers for 2018.
In fact, the GTU President revealed that government even seems bent on significantly slashing the debunching monies owed to teachers from as far back as 2011.
“The [Education Ministry’s] HR Manager indicated that $200 million was available for debunching, probably as a one-off [payment], with effect from September 2018 to July 2019,” said Lyte, as he disclosed that from the very start of the meeting, “We noticed there were several statements made in relation to the proposal by the GTU, and upon a quick glance, we realised that several things were not offered.”
Moreover, Lyte said that although the union representatives endured the lengthy meeting, the union completely rejects government’s counter offer.
“Even things like clothing allowances [proposed by the union]…were rejected. As it is we are dissatisfied. We felt that the meeting did not bear any kind of fruit [because] there were no commitments really made by government as it relates to teachers’ financial position,” said Lyte.
In a statement issued by the Education Ministry yesterday, it was revealed that at the conclusion of the meeting, Minister Amna Ally indicated that while the GTU’s demands are not unreasonable, consideration should be given to the economic status of the Government. Moreover, the Minister assured, “this is not the end, but rather a continuous process, in which both parties should be planning and preparing for better times.”
Minister Henry, according to the Ministry’s statement, sought to reiterate that her Ministry will retain a specialist to assist in determining the percentages of increase per category of teachers. She noted too that “there are difficulties in honouring all the requests put forward by the Guyana Teachers’ Union”, but implored the Union representatives to “be responsible enough to ensure that as many as possible, if not all, benefits from the new approach be carefully considered and accepted”.
“It was agreed that both teams will carefully consider what was discussed at the meeting and agree to a date for further discussions at the earliest possible time. The Ministry has listened attentively to the Guyana Teachers’ Union and expressed hope that the union equally pays close attention to the counterproposal offered,” the Ministry’s statement outlined.
Even as the meeting went on inside, teachers, many shaded by umbrellas, gathered in their numbers outside waiting to hear from their union leaders.
Shortly after she sat with other executive members to hear from the membership, GTU First Vice President, Ms. Leslyn Collins, weighed in on the move by government, which she described as nothing short of disrespectful to teachers.
As she considered the lengthy wait that teachers were subjected to, Collins said, “We knew all along they were using delaying tactics. Some of the things we are asking for we were promised by this government when they were in opposition. They promised us!”
“This is frustrating! Why our teachers got to live like that? Our teachers got to live from month to month. If our teachers go to the bank, the bank is saying ‘we can’t afford to give you a loan because you can’t afford to pay’. Many teachers, when you see your students passing, you run in your house because you are ashamed of where you live,” said an especially incensed Collins.
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