Although it is not prepared to bring the curtains down on its strike action just yet, the Guyana Teachers Union [GTU] in keeping with the law will today [at 13:30 hours] attend a rescheduled conciliation meeting called by Chief Labour Officer, Mr. Charles Ogle.
This is according to GTU President, Mr. Mark Lyte, when he addressed a press conference yesterday.
Lyte, however, made it clear that the Union remains adamant that the Chief Labour Officer, and by extension the Ministry of Social Protection with responsibility for Labour, would have compromised their position by pronouncing on salary negotiations between the GTU and the Ministry of Education. The Labour Department, Lyte said, was represented when the two sides met recently to hear government’s position regarding the salary proposal of the GTU.
Given the presence of the Labour Department at those meeting, Lyte insisted yesterday that, “the Union has no confidence in the Ministry of Social Protection mediating in an impartial manner at conciliation.”
Moreover, Lyte said that the Union is asking for neutral persons to mediate on behalf of the Union.
“We will attend this meeting in good fate with the hope that an arbitration panel will be put in place shortly,” said Lyte as he shared the expectation of the Union that the panel will comprise one representative of the GTU, one from government and an agreed chairperson and have clearly agreed terms of reference.
But according to Lyte too, “We hope that the agreed terms of resumption of work will be put in place by the two parties involved so that we can move forward with educating the nation’s children.
However, Lyte is convinced that the fallout between the Union and the government, which resulted in the GTU- membership commencing nation-wide strike action Monday, should not have even materialised. This is in light of the fact that President David Granger had put measures in place, by way of a Task Force, that should have long addressed the concerns of the Union and by extension its membership.
The established Task Force compromised representatives from government and the GTU which was mandated to, among other things, examine the Union’s multi-year proposal [which was presented to the Education Ministry since November 2015] in its entirety and consider each proposal and make appropriate recommendations. Among the recommendations of the Task Force, according to Lyte, was for a 40 percent salary increase recommended by the Union for teachers in 2016 be retained and five percent be added for the next four years [2017-2020]. But this was rejected by government which opted to offer teachers a one-off ball park sum on salaries, and debunching monies owed to teachers since 2011. According to Lyte, “it was noted that the recommendations of the Task Force were not taken into consideration when the counter proposal was tabled…the Union objected to the ball park figures, which were offered for salary increases and debunching as well as the government refusal to address clothing allowances, hard-line allowances, station allowances, risk allowances and allowances for improved qualification and to reduce class size.”
According to Lyte, since the Union continues to be faced with a predicament, it can only lay the blame on President Granger. “The Guyana Teachers Union lays the full blame, the full blame I repeat, of this strike action at the feet of His Excellency, President David Granger, who put a Task Force in place and refused to act on its recommendations,” asserted Lyte.
He added, “I know the President meant well when the Task Force was put in place but the reality is, the recommendations are before us and the government must act on it.” Lyte, however, noted that, “The GTU remains a partner with the government and is committed to negotiations from a starting point of 40 percent.”
Even as he acknowledged that the strike action has attracted mixed reaction, Lyte disclosed that the Union at its General Council meeting [also held yesterday] decided that it will be providing financial support to its membership engaged in strike action. Lyte told media operatives that the forthcoming support will be made available “to the extent that teachers need the relief.”
“Strike relief can be full compensation or partly compensated based on the amount of money they [teachers] lose per day,” said Lyte as he explained that the level of compensation will be determined by the number of teachers striking. He, however, noted that even if the Union opts to offer partial relief, it should see the Union offering teachers as much as 50 percent.
In addition to that Lyte said that the Union will be reaching out to entities, such as stores and lending institutions, to which teachers may need to make monthly payments in hopes of them exercising consideration.
It is the expectation of the GTU President that with the promise of strike relief a greater number of teachers will join the strike action. “Many of our teachers were not sure based on the fact that they were thinking about monies being lost, so now that the Union is coming out to say we will support our teachers who proceed on strike. This should give those who are in between and betwixt the confidence to go forward with the strike action,” Lyte said.
And Lyte asserted yesterday, “we have looked at our resources and realised that we can go a far way…we can go months into this, months covering as many teachers that proceed on the strike. We are in for the long haul,” Lyte assured. In fact, he disclosed that the belated decision to compensate striking teachers was made by the Union’s General Council based on its financial capacity.
Meanwhile, the Union through its General Secretary, Ms. Coretta McDonald, yesterday issued a warning to teachers who, despite the promise of strike relief, opt to attend school come next week. “Let me make it known that when you go to school if you have three teachers there then the responsibility is that of the three teachers who are present to ensure that the people’s children are taken care of. And if anything should happen during that period then you might have to go to the Minister of Education to seek recourse in whatever would have happened there…” McDonald warned.
The Ministry of Education has assured that schools will be manned by some 300 trainee teachers from the Cyril Potter College of Education and retired teachers as well but, according to Lyte, “us staying away from the classroom will have a significant impact.”
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