– more than 200 march in support in Region Two
By Malisa Playter-Harry in Berbice and Romario Blair in Essequibo
The township of New Amsterdam and its environs yesterday witnessed over 500 educators led by Guyana Teachers’ Union [GTU] President, Mark Lyte, marching and vocalising their desire to continue strike action until their demands are heard by government.
As they marched through the streets, they firmly asserted that “we are not backing down.”
Although some of them looked ready for the new school year with their attractive attire, it was clear that the teachers had one thing in mind – strike for better wages and salaries. And the protest was indeed fiery.
Protesting yesterday were teachers and head-teachers from primary and secondary schools on the Upper Corentyne straight on to New Amsterdam.
Assembled at the Education Department, Region Six, with placards in hand at approximately 09:30 hrs, heavy showers of rain certainly was no match for the determined and frustrated educators. In fact, they picketed through the rain until the sun shone through all the while calling for a 40 percent across the board salary increase.
Students from the New Amsterdam Multilateral School and Berbice High School who turned up for the first day of the school term were sent home as the teachers did not show up, but opted to join the protest. Several nursery, primary and secondary schools were also closed yesterday as the teachers and head-teachers refused to work. However, the Cropper Primary School was among the few that kept their doors open with a full complement of staff turning out to work.
The protest/march that commenced from the Region Six Education Department and concluded at the Union Hall in New Amsterdam, saw Lyte addressing the protesting contingent of educators.
His charge to them was, “we have to lead our teachers and those of you who are saying that you had to report this morning, the union on the 10th day of August wrote the Minister of Labour and brought it to the attention of the Ministry of Education that we will be proceeding on strike from the 27th day of August until this matter has been resolved, so there was no need to report”.
He noted that the fact that over 500 teachers turned out to protest and the strike is a testimony that Region Six is behind the GTU.
“You are saying that the government must treat us with respect. If we allow this to slide, we will never get the respect,” he asserted.
Taking a jab at the Minister responsible for Labour, Lyte said, “for a Minister to say that we are ‘selfish’ and ‘uncaring’ is utter nonsense. And this is coming from the Minister who wants to lead the conciliation team. Well the union is saying no to conciliation, yes to arbitration”.
He stressed, “they can victimize if they want, a few of us, but they cannot victimize all of us”. Lyte underscored too that it is not the time to “weak out” but rather, a time to “stand firm in what we are fighting for.”
The GTU head further added that it is left upon the parents to decide whether they are in support of the government treating teachers as they have been recently. He explained, “many of the children had to go home because teachers were not there and if you are not there, there is no parent that can hold a class. They have their own jobs, we must send a message that we are teachers who have dedicated years of our time and service to qualify ourselves to where we are.”
Lyte made it clear that he is not “PPP, PNC or, AFC…I am Mark Lyte and I am not a politician, I represent teachers,” a declaration that was met with loud applause.
As the GTU strike action occurred, substitute teachers were dispatched to several schools throughout the country.
Meanwhile, teachers from various schools across the Pomeroon/Supenaam Region, also ushered in the new school year yesterday supporting the protest action.
Despite the inclement weather, more than 200 teachers marched in front of the region’s Department of Education in support of the nationwide strike.
Kaieteur News understands that some 75 percent of the schools within the region participated.
Some of the placards yesterday read, “we are the reason for your success, why suffer us?”, “We don’t want a clash, pay us our cash” and “no pay, no school”.
According to information reaching this publication, teachers from as far as the Pomeroon supported the North, Central and South Essequibo branches in the protest.
GTU Representative Ms. Desiree Vanlewin said that it is anticipated that there will be more participation tomorrow. Teachers yesterday told the media that the government should lead by example, referring to the 50 percent increase government Ministers received soon after they took office in 2015.
While teachers were on strike yesterday, a number of students were seen out of school, lingering around the compound during school hours. In response to the disorder, the Department of Education told the media that they are presently monitoring the situation and are prepared to deploy temporary teachers to the affected schools.
One parent who stood in solidarity with the teachers yesterday said, “Look at the MPs food bill alone at Parliament, you will get an idea of how these people in power are caring for themselves and not the working class.”
A teacher added, “We know some of these issues that have led to this situation would’ve been initiated since around 2011. Our present ministers who were then in the Opposition said a lot of things about what they are going to do, yet there is no justice for teachers because there appears to be no respect for us.”
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