– Labour Minister apologies for “uncaring” and unselfish remarks
Although the Guyana Teachers Union [GTU] declared yesterday a ‘rest day’ for its striking membership, teachers in a few education districts continued with vibrant protest actions.
Among the areas which saw teachers coming out in full force to demand improved wages and salaries yesterday were Georgetown, Region One, Region Three and Region 10.
Those who protested outside of the Education Ministry’s 26 Brickdam, Georgetown office could be heard singing ‘if she can’t pay the money leh she go’ to the rhythm of the popular Sunday School song: ‘If you happy and you know it’ much to the amusement of many passersby.
From all indications the protestors were making reference to Minister of Education, Nicolette Henry who weeks earlier had informed the union representatives of government’s inability to pay teachers the 40 percent salary increase they proposed for 2016.
While reports out of the union suggest that over 400 protested in Georgetown and more than 500 teachers mounted protest action in Region Three, it was Region 10 which again had the largest protesting contingent. They amounted to over 2,500 individuals of protestors inclusive of teachers, parents and community leaders, according to reports from the GTU. Monday the protestors there amounted to just over 1,000.
According to GTU President, Mark Lyte, teachers across the country will continue protest action today in much the way they did on Monday to mark the start of the new school year. Even as he responded to claims from the Education Ministry that Monday’s strike action was insignificant, Lyte said, “the numbers speak for themselves and this was highlighted in the media based on the photographs and the videos that surfaced where the demonstration took place.”
“It goes to show that they [Education Ministry] did not receive the right information from the people on the ground. They are saying that the strike saw less than 2000 when in essence the teachers came out in far more numbers,” said Lyte.
According to the GTU President, the union was able to tabulate that in excess of 3,700 teachers were on the picket-line Monday. He added too that although some teachers did not join the picketing exercise, the union was able to verify that others did stay away from school in solidarity with their protesting colleagues.
“Although a number of schools were opened, many of them were operating with a skeleton staff and they were dismissed before mid-morning,” Lyte confided.
Minister of Education, Ms. Nicolette Henry, accompanied by several senior education officials, including Chief Education Officer, Mr. Marcel Hutson and Permanent Secretary [ag], Ms. Adele Clarke, sought to downplay the strike action and even lauded the Ministry’s contingency plan to offset the strike action.
A number of trainee teachers from the Cyril Potter College of Education [CPCE] were incorporated into the Ministry’s contingency plan and according to Ministry officials their services was offered voluntarily. But this publication was reliably informed that this was not necessarily true.
“Evidence is there that they force those people [trainees] and they are still forcing them. They are telling them they have no classes and they have to go to the schools…they were not given an option,” said a source close to the Education Ministry.
Sharing his remarks about this development, the GTU President said, “I know the public will be monitoring them and the public will not be fooled by their ‘comedy show’.”
Even as the union gears to continue nation-wide strike/protest action today, Lyte said that it is still awaiting word from the ruling administration on its arbitration proposal or even an acceptable percentage increase on teachers’ salaries.
“We are waiting for the government to call us and say something because obviously they do not want to go to arbitration,” said Lyte as he insisted that the union is prepared to continue its strike action until government recognises the importance of properly compensating the moulders of the nation.
Meanwhile, Minister within the Social Protection Ministry, who has responsibility for Labour, Keith Scott, yesterday issued a short but precise apology to public school teachers. The apology, which was disseminated by the Ministry of the Presidency, came on the heels of the backlash of the Minister’s publicised claims that teachers were “selfish” and “uncaring” for engaging in strike action.
In his apology Scott said “I would like to offer my sincerest apologies to the teachers of Guyana. I regret making such an inflammatory and hurtful statement. I have always and will always hold the teachers of our nation in the highest regard. It was never my intention to be disrespectful of or to downplay the legitimate industrial actions taken by the Guyana Teachers Union on behalf of its membership and teachers generally.”
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