By Sharmain Grainger
While assurance of strike relief from their union has certainly been a motivating factor, teachers were certainly riled-up to strike in their numbers after being accused of being “selfish” and “uncaring” by a government Minister. This was certainly reflected when they took to the streets countrywide yesterday despite inclement weather.
In Georgetown where scores of teachers gathered on the picket-line outside of the Ministry of Education before heading over to the Ministry of the Presidency, they repeatedly sang solidarity songs. Among those engaged in the industrial action was a teacher bearing a conspicuous placard stating that “teachers are not selfish! We just need to be adequately compensated.”
This was undoubtedly in response to disparaging remarks made by Minister within the Ministry of Social Protection, Keith Scott.
GTU President, Mark Lyte, is convinced that the disrespect meted out to teachers has encouraged them to continue to strike. He disclosed that while a number of teachers did sign in at their respective schools yesterday, they did sign out shortly after to join their striking colleagues.
“More and more teachers were joining during the course of the day, because not everybody was able to come at the same time to be at the central point, but the impact of this strike action is being felt across the country,” Lyte said. As he spoke of several schools being forced to close their doors because of the absence of teachers.
He made reference to the sizeable turnout of teachers to support the strike action yesterday.
Lyte said that based on the union’s tabulation, before noon in excess of 3,700 teachers were picketing across the country. This, he said, translated to some 90 teachers in Region One, over 80 in Region Two, over 400 in Region Three, another 300 in Region Four, over 700 in Georgetown, over 250 in Region Five, over 500 in Region Six, some 70 in Region Seven, 80 in Region Nine and over 1,000 in Region 10.
The union up to last evening was still tabulating its numbers since, according to Lyte, in order to afford teachers their strike relief “we have to keep a record of all those who are involved in the strike action.”
Even as he considered the impact of the strike action, Lyte considered that thousands of children would have been affected as a result.
“But the strike must go on until an acceptable resolution is realised,” the GTU President said.
However, it is the GTU President’s hope that the strike action will “open government’s eyes to teachers’ contribution to nation building and to education as key and address our concerns urgently so that our children will not be caused to suffer any longer.”
“The union remains open to hearing from the President so that this particular issue can be resolve at the earliest possible time,” Lyte continued.
Also, incensed by the remarks of the government Minister, GTU General Secretary, Ms. Coretta McDonald, made it clear that “teachers feel disrespected…teachers feel that the government is very disrespectful.”
According to McDonald, “that Minister happens to be the Minister whose department is supposed to be the mediating factor. All that we would want to say to that Minister at this time, ‘thank you very much for making our position much more solid, when we said to them [government] we have no confidence or faith in the Department of Labour’.”
Although the Education Ministry had appealed to the Ministry of Social Protection to exercise its powers of conciliation through its Labour Department in hopes that it would bring to an end the ongoing strike action, the GTU had made it clear it could not rely on the Department to be impartial in such a process.
As such, the union had assured government that it was prepared to bring an end to the strike action if a process of arbitration conducted by neutral persons was instead embraced. Since this was not accepted, the union has decided to continue with its strike , which commenced last week.
As she affirmed the increase support of teachers yesterday, the first day of the new school year, McDonald assured that this was also the situation in other regions as well.
“This is not only happening in Georgetown,” said McDonald as she added that teachers are engaged in the struggle for a living wage, which the union had long been hoping government would offer. The union since 2015 had proposed a 40 percent across the board increase for teachers in 2016 and five additional percent for the following four years [2017 – 2020].
“We have been saying all along a proposal is a proposal, if you can’t meet the proposal, come and let’s talk. GTU went further to say to this government, we are willing to accept something substantial in the first year of the agreement and the five percent for the remaining four years and that is where we are. Come to us with 10 percent, 15 percent or whatever, we are willing to accept that because we don’t want to be on the road, we don’t want to be away from our classrooms with our children, we want to be in our schools. Come and talk to us and let us have a resolution to this situation,” McDonald appealed.
Although President David Granger at a press conference last Friday said that government has been looking for fresh sources of funding to meet the salary needs of teachers, McDonald said that this development has not yet been communicated to the union.
“This has not been communicated to the Guyana Teachers’ Union except for what we read in the newspapers and what we saw on television,” said McDonald as she stressed the continued disrespect shown to teachers.
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