Like many Guyanese, I am incensed. The strike by teachers was avoidable. After the irresponsible behaviour by the Minister of Education, the President should have intervened.
It was this very President that appointed a special task force to make recommendations relating to salary increases and non-salary benefits for teachers.
It is the President’s own task force that recommended a 40% increase in salaries for teachers. The government has had that report for months.
Not only has the Minister of Education been reckless in managing the salary negotiation with the teachers, she was accompanied by the Minister of Social Protection, the Minister under whom Labour is managed.
The Ministry of Social Protection and the Junior Minister responsible for Labour, therefore, cannot fairly intercede.
Throughout this fiasco, the teachers have been pellucid – they will avert a strike by going to arbitration. Why is the President and the Cabinet so opposed to arbitration?
Our children and their parents deserve better, a more responsible attitude from this government. Is it that they are afraid that a fair arbitration will find that the teachers have a good case and that the government is in a position to meet the specific requests in the proposals by the Guyana Teachers Union? The union has reasonably asked for arbitration. The President and his Cabinet is insisting on conciliation by the Minister with Responsibility for Labour.
But that Minister and that Ministry have already pronounced on the matter – that teachers are asking too much and that teachers must heed the call for patience. Arbitration is the reasonable next step.
President Granger has made no effort to meet with the teachers. At a press conference that he held under pressure, he had no answers, other than his government looking to find money to increase the $700M one-off payment to the 10,000 teachers, about $7,000 per teacher, amounting to less than $600 per month per teacher.
The Leader of the Opposition has guided him to where he could find money, not just to improve on the $700M one-off payment, but to meet the 40% increase in salaries the teachers are asking for.
The Leader of the Opposition has shown that in certain categories like food and internal travelling in Budget 2018, the government can safely cut more than $5B, without any impact on the development programmes.
Compared to the 2014 budget, categories accounting for about $9B are now close to $15B in 2018. Even if we cater for an annual 5% increase in these categories, there will be a saving of more than $3B. This will more than cater for funding the proposals made by the teachers.
Instead of a reasonable approach, every day the behaviour of APNU+AFC relating to the teachers’ salary issue becomes more and more disgusting, insulting and shameless.
The latest reprehensible statement comes from the Junior Minister responsible for Labour, Keith Scott.
According to him, the teachers are uncaring and selfish. He joins his colleagues, like a backbench MP, who describes the teachers as ungrateful.
Unfortunately, Scott also echoes the sentiments of the Minister of Education who demanded that teachers be patient.
Scott joins Prime Minister Nagamootoo who wants teachers to be patient.
The PM repugnantly told teachers that he was patient when he earned $US30 per month about 50 years ago and that they can be similarly patient with an average monthly salary of $US350. In the meanwhile, none of these persons and their government have been able to justify their 50 to 100% increased salaries and benefits in 2015.
These Ministers with close to or far above $1M per month salaries, free housing, vehicles, drivers, security, domestic help, international trips, overseas medical services, free entertainment etc. are asking people with an average of about $70,000 per month to be patient.
I know, as the teachers know, that it was always unlikely that the government would accede to the 40% salary increase proposal that the teachers made. But it was expected that the government would have bargained in good faith. After all, the 40% increase proposal was the recommendation of the task force that President Granger appointed.
I know that part of the problem is that there is a 2020 election gimmick plan – a large increase in salaries for everyone. Giving a reasonable salary increase now would lessen the election gimmick. But this is about our children, not electoral expediency. We cannot play games with the lives of our children. If not for the teachers, at least, for our children. The President must agree to arbitration now.
Dr. Leslie Ramsammy
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