An improved pay package may be on the horizon for teachers.
According to President David Granger at a press conference yesterday, government is deliberately working towards meeting the salary demands of public school teachers.
Teachers through their union, the Guyana Teachers’ Union, have asked of government a 40 percent increase for 2016 which was also brought to the attention and endorsed by a Task Force which was established by government to negotiate a salary increase for teachers.
The Task Force had also supported the union’s call for an additional five percent for teachers over the next five years.
However, government after perusing the report of the Task Force said that there were serious financial implications if the recommended percentages were approved. Moreover, government opted to offer teachers a $700 million payout on their 2018 salaries. This of course did not find favour with the union and its membership, forcing them into strike action which commenced Monday and is likely to continue next week.
But President Granger yesterday disclosed that government is moving towards changing its proposition.
“Money was found to augment the initial offer, and even as a I speak, the Ministry of Social Protection which has responsibility for Labour and Industrial Relations, is in touch with the Ministry of Finance to see whether additional funds can be found from other heads of government expenditure in order to move closer to the goal of finding sufficient funds for the teachers. The government has been trying to meet the teachers’ needs after several discussions at Cabinet on the High level panel [Task Force] report,” the President informed.
It was just such a move, he recalled, that government had initiated to address financial challenges in the sugar industry.
“We had to do this in the case of the Guyana Sugar Corporation workers, in which some ministries, all ministries voluntarily surrendered funds which had been allocated for other purposes…and this is what is being attempted at present,” he said.
As part of its efforts to avert strike action, the government through the Education Ministry moved to call upon the Social Protection Ministry to exercise its powers of conciliation through its Labour Department. But the union, convinced that the Labour Department was not reliable enough to be impartial in the process, since the Ministry was involved in earlier negotiation meetings on the government side, refused to embrace the call for conciliation. Instead, GTU President, Mr. Mark Lyte, said that the union was pushing for arbitration.
Speaking on the issue yesterday too, President Granger said, “the government has put on the table the need for arbitration [but] we feel that a strike is an extreme measure and it should only be applied as the last resort. Before we reach the stage of strike there should be some form of mediation, and if mediation fails we can go to arbitration, but I think it’s immature to speak of strike at this stage, and we are still on the government side aiming at mediation. I do not believe that mediation has failed.”
He added, “I do not think that meditation has failed; we should proceed from mediation to explore possible arbitration before there is a talk of a strike,” the President said as he reiterated that government is actively searching for fresh sources of funding to satisfy the teachers’ needs.
The President also made it clear that even as moves are made in this direction, it must be noted that government has not been neglecting teachers since “over the last three years the lowest paid teachers have been beneficiaries of pay increases along with other public servants. So the teachers were not discriminated against they got all the benefits the public servants were getting all along.”
Nonetheless, he emphasized that “We haven’t abandoned the negotiations, we are still in negotiations at this stage as far as I am concerned.”
“At this stage the immediate need is for us to conclude an agreement which would see the teachers calling off the strike and entering into long term negotiations for that multi-year agreement,” said Granger.
He however admitted that government has not yet embarked on the multi- year negotiations although, “I think it is desirable and we have not had that opportunity to complete those talks as yet. Right now people are preoccupied with almost day-to-day issues. I personally belief a multi-year agreement is desirable to have, but this is not the time now.”
Meanwhile, the President informed that government is also looking to address similar concerns of the Guyana Public Service Union [GPSU] through its Labour Department.” He said, “I have been in communication with GPSU and we shall meet the GPSU to initiate discussion along similar lines as the GTU.”
As he considered the work of the Labour Department in such matters, the President said that “it has been working hard. I feel the success of the Department has to be measured in accordance with the fact that we have not had a major labour disturbance for the last three years.”
He added, “I think there have been other actions budgetary actions, as well as interventions, by the Ministry of Social Protection, which have kept a reasonably stable industrial relations climate, so I would be satisfied with the Ministry of Social Protection, particularly the Department of Labour…the Department has not changed from what it was in the previous administration and it is continuing to do its work.”
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