Even as it mobilises its membership to engage strike action from next week, the Guyana Teachers’ Union [GTU] is looking into claims that some teachers are being dissuaded from supporting the planned industrial action.
This is according to GTU President, Mr. Mark Lyte, who told this publication yesterday that based on reports reaching the union, some teachers within Region One for instance have been receiving threats.
“Based on second-hand information, we are hearing that some of the untrained and semi qualified teachers from areas within Region One have been threatened to stay away from any strike action, and they have been warned that they must report for work,” Lyte stated.
It is being alleged, Lyte said, that the threats have been made by a senior official.
“We are trying to get more information on this,” said Lyte, even as he insisted that the union has officially informed the Ministry, and by extension the regions, of its plan to engage industrial action. This therefore means that the action to strike is a legitimate one, and therefore, teachers should not be fearful of participating.
Yesterday, executive members of the union met with more than 200 teachers at its Woolford Avenue, Georgetown headquarters, where it sought to sensitise teachers about the importance of engaging industrial action.
The decision to strike was due to failed talks between the union and government regarding a salary package for public school teachers. Among other things, the union has rejected government’s offer of a $700 million one-off payment to teachers, which will translate to an increase only for 2018, and a $200 million debunching money pay-out.
At the end of 2015, a multi-year salary package between the union and the previous government came to an end, which saw the union crafting and submitting to the Education Ministry a new proposal intended to span the period 2016 – 2020.
Entailed in the proposal were, 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.
Unwilling to accept the slothful pace of the negotiations with the Education Ministry, the union had threatened to engage strike action back in 2017, a move which was averted by government’s offer to establish a high level committee, consisting of government and union representatives, to fast-track the negotiation process.
Although it was a lengthy process, the committee, earlier this year, was able to complete the negotiation process and submit a report to Minister of Education, Nicolette Henry, who in turn handed over same to Cabinet.
Based on the disclosure of Minister of State, Joseph Harmon, the report was then submitted to the Ministry of Finance to consider the recommendations of the Committee.
But Harmon had disclosed that the Finance Ministry had noted some serious financial implications. From all indications, the observed implications resulted in government in recent days stating its unwillingness to accept the majority of the union’s proposal, even recommending that a ‘specialist’ be contracted to re-negotiate a suitable percent increase for teachers. This is in spite of the fact that the high-level committee which negotiated the salary increase for teachers consisted of officials from the Ministries of Education, Communities and the Ministry of the Presidency.
Lyte had long expressed his dissatisfaction that government seemed unwilling to accept the recommendations of the committee.
“It really baffles me to know that they are surprised to know that whatever the Task Force was looking at would have financial implications, because it is no secret that this very government admitted that teachers were underpaid,” Lyte said.
He’d continued by adding, “This very government saw the importance of debunching monies and other salary benefits [for teachers]…so how is it now that they are making a statement to say that, when that is a foregone conclusion, and whatever was coming out of the Task Force would have had implications.”
Lyte had ever since shared his opinion that the assertion uttered by the Minister of State seemed to indicate a lack of desire on the part of government – despite the efforts of a Task Force that it had appointed – to pay teachers their just deserts.
For this very reason, the union has not been taking lightly the decision to resort to strike action.
According to Lyte, “we are getting overwhelming support from our members…we know Georgetown is fully on board,” said Lyte, who was also in the forefront when union executives met with another faction of its membership at the Enmore Community Centre yesterday.
In fact, the union will today be heading to Linden to continue its mobilisation efforts which will continue in Bartica tomorrow, in Essequibo on Thursday and in Berbice on Friday.
“Our teachers are serious about striking…in Bartica, they have agreed to meet with us, even on a national holiday,” said Lyte, as he insisted that teachers are fully prepared to stay away from school come Monday, even without financial support.
The strike action next week is expected to severely hamper pre-term activities, and its continuance during the following week will also impact the first week of the new school year.
Following the initial two weeks of strike action, Lyte said that the union will meet with its membership to decide the way forward if government does not revise its position.
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