It has been nine months since government promised to pay sugar workers their severance.
Since 2015, teachers multi-year agreement expired and APNU+AFC promised that they would negotiate a new agreement. Throughout such repulsive behaviour from APNU+AFC, the so-called champion for sugar workers and teachers has been totally silent. Moses Nagamootoo has no shame. Just as he betrayed the sugar workers, now he has betrayed the teachers. He is silent still, even as President Granger continues the assault on sugar workers by not addressing the non-payment of their severance and even as Granger refuses to intervene to stop the teachers strike. He is playing the “Follow-the-Leader” game: just as Granger is asking sugar workers and teachers to have patience, Nagamootoo wants the sugar workers and teachers to be patient.
Last week Friday, Nagamootoo reached new lows in the abyss of shame. At an award event for teachers, Nagamootoo demanded that teachers must patiently wait until government is ready to give teachers a raise. Worse, he tried to justify why the President and the Cabinet had to raise their salaries between 50 and 100% almost immediately after the new Cabinet started to work in May 2015. In effect, he was saying that the Minister with their monthly million-dollar salaries could not wait, but that teachers with their low salaries must bear their chafe and wait. He told the teachers that they earn an average of $US350 per month, when he, Nagamootoo, only earned $US30 per month almost 50 years ago. In effect, he told them that they were ungrateful, that if he sacrificed earning $US30 per month, why can they not be patient with $US350 per month. The man is utterly shameless.
The teachers collective bargaining agreement ended since December 2015. That agreement ended a ten-year arrangement in which teachers agreed to two five-year agreements with the PPP covering various areas, including annual salary increases and non-salary benefits. It was during those agreements that benefits such as attendance to university, teachers training, duty-free vehicles, housing funds etc. were introduced. There were agreed annual salary increases. None of these led to salaries and benefits that teachers deserve, but steady improvements were being accomplished. Even if teachers did not get 100% of what they deserved then, they were treated with respect and dignity. It should be noted that teachers on more than one occasion threatened to strike under the PPP government. But because of responsible behaviour on the part of the Ministry of Education, the teachers union and the government, those strikes were averted and there were agreements, particularly those two five-year deals.
It should also be noted that while salaries of teachers averaged about $US30 per month when Nagamootoo started teaching about 50 years ago, it was about $US10 in 1990. That is the base, which the PPP inherited and raised it to where it is today. Since 2015, APNU+AFC kept promising the teachers that they would engage them to discuss their salary increases and benefits in a new multi-year agreement. Just like President Granger is trying to convince us all that it is difficult for him to find time to hold press conferences, so too his government refused to meet with teachers for more than three years. APNU+AFC, through its Minister of Education, persistently asked the teachers to be patient. The teachers have been patient.
When in 2017, the teachers appealed to President Granger that their salary and non-salary benefits be addressed and that the government keep their promise of a new multi-year agreement to replace the one that ended in 2015, Granger promised them that that would be done immediately. But he demanded a Task Force to make recommendations. The Task Force was appointed by the President and included mostly his people. The Task Force made its recommendation and presented to the government more than six months ago. The teachers did not concoct the 40% increase request from thin air; they used the recommendation from Granger’s Task Force.
President Granger, the Minister of Education and APNU+AFC promised the teachers that they will act on the Task Force recommendation. In 1999, the PPP had agreed to a Task Force for public servant salaries. The PPP at the time was agreeable to a salary of 5-8%, arguing that any increase above 5% would stress the budget. But the Task Force recommended 31% across the board. The PPP respected the recommendation and implemented it. APNU+AFC, on the contrary, has simply threw their Task Force recommendation out into the dump. They have not only broken their promise, they have betrayed the teachers because, when the teachers accepted the Task Force, it was on the premise that the recommendations would be binding on both sides.
This is not the first time that APNU+AFC has broken promises to teachers. They had promised teachers during the election campaign in 2015 that all teachers would benefit from a 20% annual increase during their first term. They also promised teachers large increases and better benefits in their manifesto. During the election campaign, David Granger himself promised that teachers deserve to be among the highest paid public servants. Those promises have been shelved and forgotten. Teachers have been betrayed. Now the only thing APNU+AFC is willing to deliver is a demand for teachers to be patient.
Throughout all of the shenanigans, Nagamootoo has been silent, until last Friday, when he came out and asked for the teachers to be patient. Teachers have had no salary increase since 2015, just like sugar workers. In that time, Government food and entertainment bill has increased by more than $8B annually, internal travelling has increased by more than $1B annually, international travel has increased by several billions annually. Corruption is responsible for many billions each year. The temerity of Nagamootoo asking for patience by teachers is simply overbearing.
Dr. Leslie Ramsammy
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