Hundreds of teachers throughout the country took to the streets last Monday as part of their pre-term strike action to protest the government’s refusal to grant them salary increases and better working conditions. Even though conciliation talks between the union and the government ended in deadlock, the union has indicated its willingness to relinquish its 40% demand for “a reasonable offer”, but the government is not on the same page.
It is now more than likely that the strike will continue into the new school year which begins Monday. Although many parents would obviously prefer to have their children in school, there is a growing belief among them that teachers are being treated unfairly. Lest we forget, this government increased the salaries of its ministers by 50 percent in their first three months in office. Today, it is refusing to grant a meaningful increase to teachers.
It is regrettable that the government is essentially juggling with the welfare of the individuals who are the backbone of our education system. Teachers, though inadequately remunerated, continue tirelessly to provide expert guidance and mould the minds of our children. A teacher’s job is full of responsibilities and challenges, because not every student is the same, thus the teacher has to be dynamic and creative, and employ varying teaching patterns. Not only do teachers nurture our children, but they also act as de facto parents in disciplining them and establishing guidelines for them to follow.
Instead of honouring the noble profession and preventing the strike, the Ministry of Education and by extension the government has taken a high-handed approach, by stating that the striking teachers will be replaced with about three hundred trainees from the Cyril Potter College. The sufferers in this mess are the students.
According to the president of the Guyana Teachers’ Union, Mark Lyte, the union will settle for arbitration, but the government wants the conciliation process to precede arbitration. Maybe it is fearful that a similar conclusion will be reached as the one by the High-Level Task Force established by President Granger.
Lyte has insisted that the Union has absolutely no confidence in the Ministry of Social Protection to mediate in an impartial manner, because the Chief Labour Officer, and the Ministry of Social Protection, which has responsibility for Labour and Industrial Relations, have in the union’s opinion, compromised their positions by clearly being on the side of the Education ministry.
That said, for its apparent indifference, the government has to be blamed for the strike and the impending inconvenience of thousands of parents and students. Following the breakdown of negotiations between the union and the Ministry of Education last year, President Granger established the aforementioned High-Level panel to consider each proposal by the union and make appropriate recommendations to resolve the dispute.
The high level committee’s report, according to the president, was brought before Cabinet and it was felt that there were certain deficiencies in the report, and it was because of those deficiencies that there was a delay in engaging with the union. Some critical questions were not answered. The president said they have to go back to the drawing board and rectify some of the missing information, and correct some of the deficiencies.
He said although they are working toward a solution to the crisis, the existing report should not be regarded as a sound basis for proceeding, because of the deficiencies of information. Critical information, he said, was not supplied to the high level committee, thus it is impossible to arrive at certain figures or conclusions without that information being included.
If this is the case, it seems as though the two sides, Union and Government, are worlds apart.
This is not good news.
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