– but union only prepared to discuss revised offer
Although government through Minister of Education, Nicolette Henry, has indicated that talks with the Guyana Teachers’ Union [GTU] have not ended, GTU President, Mark Lyte, has insisted otherwise.
In fact, Lyte made it clear yesterday that a meeting last week Thursday to hear government’s response to its proposal for a multi-year salary package for teachers ended on a sour note, since government had rejected the majority of the union’s proposal.
But Lyte disclosed yesterday that the union was in receipt of a letter late Tuesday afternoon from the Ministry of Education which served as an invitation to resume salary talks.
In a statement issued by the Ministry of the Presidency, the Education Minister said that talks with the union had not ended following last week’s meeting.
The Minister related too that while some aspects of the union’s terms were agreed upon, a decision was taken for another meeting to be held to iron
out the outstanding issues. The Minister in that very statement said, too, that government remains committed to paying teachers their increases.
The union had proposed, among other things, 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.
However, based on Lyte’s recollection of last week’s meeting, government had only committed to paying teachers a $7 million one-off pay out and, once agreed upon, a specialist will be contracted to determine a suitable percentage increase.
This is in spite of the fact that the union’s proposal was negotiated by a government-appointed high level committee consisting of several government officials, including from the Ministries of Finance, Education, Communities and the Ministry of the Presidency, along with GTU representatives.
Given government’s unsatisfactory response to recommendations to what is believed to be a decent salary package for teachers, the GTU, based on the guidance of its membership, decided to advice the Ministry of its plan to engage strike action in retaliation.
According to Lyte, the union’s plans will not be thwarted unless government presents a multi-year package that is tantamount to an acceptable living wage for teachers.
Without such an assurance, Lyte said that the union will not be further engaged by government “to hear what we have already heard. We will only meet if they give us assurance that they are prepared to revise their offer”.
According to Lyte, the Minister in her letter of invitation to resume talks proposed that a meeting be held today at noon or at a time convenient to the union. But Lyte revealed, “I wrote back to the Minister stating that the GTU, as far as we are concerned…there were no plans for a continuation of discussions because the last discussion had ended…we never agreed to a continuation.”
Lyte said that should the government present favourable grounds for a meeting, the union will not only be looking forward to a new proposal, but government will have to make clear the status of the report of the high level committee which negotiated the multi-year salary package for teachers.
In the interim, Lyte said that the union will continue to agitate its 7,000-odd membership to engage an initial two weeks of full blown strike action, in the hope that the impact will force government to rethink its stance.
The strike action will commence during the pre-term activities [August 27] and continue until the first week of school, after which, Lyte said, the union will decide the way forward.
But government might very well be willing to rethink its stance, as by evening yesterday, the Education Ministry issued a statement that it will be meeting with the GTU at 14:00 hours to have further talks with a view of arriving at an amicable resolution to the teachers’ multi-year agreement.
The Ministry in its advisory said that while the media will not be privy to that meeting, “the media will have an opportunity to ask questions in relation to said talks when the meeting is concluded.”
Minister Henry in an attempt to justify government’s position at the recent meeting in relation to the union’s proposal said, “I want to point out that some were agreed on in part, because it required much more than one area. For instance, [on] the issue related to duty free concessions, we agreed entirely on what was proposed; when it came to the issue of housing and the Revolving Fund we agreed also. However, [on] the issue of salary and debunching, we did not agree on at all [since] the government proposed a ball park figure.
“In the case of debunching, we are looking at $200 million to address debunching for the year 2018. The Union suggested that they believe that it should be retroactive and therefore they were not in agreement with looking at just 2018. In addition to that, the issue of salary also, for which we had allocated the sum of $700 million, they felt that should also be retroactive,” she explained.
Minister Henry noted that given the differences of opinion and the number of issues that had to be addressed, the Union and the Government’s side “agreed in principle that we will meet subsequently to address the issues that were not resolved at that first meeting. So, my understanding, and at least the agreement that came out of that meeting, is that we will meet subsequently, and it is my intention to invite the Union to continue to have meetings as was agreed [to] at our initial meeting”.
The Minister of Education said that based on this agreement therefore, the move by the union to engage strike action is not in keeping with the position that was taken at last week’s meeting.
The Minister further explained that the reason the Government’s side proposed a ball park figure pay-out for teachers was due to the fact that the salary increases will be dependent on the debunching process.
She noted that because the Union was asking for 40 percent increase across the board, the Ministry felt that would have further compounded the issue related to debunching.
“We needed to address that issue and so we gave a figure on what is available in terms of financing to address the debunching issue. Once the debunching issue is addressed and teachers in this instance can be categorised and put into scales, then it will give you an opportunity to give what is allocated to salary increases in the respective categories…
“There is certainly nothing sinister or there is certainly no ulterior motive in awarding the ball park figure, because that did come up in the discussion. I just wanted to provide that clarity, because I believe that teachers and the Guyanese people need to understand what was proposed and why it was proposed,” Minister Henry said.
With the Union calling for a countrywide strike, the Minister noted that the David Granger-led administration is a pro-working class government and therefore believes that engagements for mutual satisfaction must be achieved. She also made it clear that remuneration will be given in keeping with what can be afforded at this time.
“We, first and foremost believe that we need to engage; that we need to make teachers aware of where we are, what the government is doing, and appeal to them that we are doing the best we can in the circumstances. We will ensure that the teachers are given increases in keeping, of course, with what we can afford,” she said.
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