– prepared to renegotiate salary increase with Head of State
Even as it continued with vibrant strike action yesterday across the country, the Guyana Teachers’ Union [GTU] is currently contemplating legal action to prevent the illegal appointment of teachers.
Lyte disclosed yesterday that the union has become aware that in the move to provide “substitute” teachers for schools affected by the ongoing strike action, individuals are being furnished with pre-appointment letters pending their appointment by the Teaching Service Commission [TSC].
It is believed that a move in this direction comes on the heels of voiced objections to trainee teachers from the Cyril Potter College of Education and retired teachers, being tasked with managing affected classrooms.
Lyte, speaking with media operatives yesterday, said that the union has become aware that the Regional Education Department of Region Three has been giving persons letters which state that they have been recommended to teach and will be hired by the TSC.
When contacted, Lyte said that officials at the TSC said that “they are not aware…”
But this publication has been privy to a letter to this effect dated September 3, 2018, which states that a teacher [name withheld] “was recommended by the Department of Education – Essequibo Islands/West Demerara Region to be appointed by the Teaching Service Commission, as a substitute/temporary teacher, with effect from September 4, 2018 until further notice.”
The letter added too that “The appointment was recommended to cushion the impact of the Industrial Action staged by the Guyana Teachers’ Union.”
But such a move Lyte insisted yesterday “is in direct contravention of the laws of Guyana, because you can only appoint people if vacancies are declared, and as far as we know we [striking teachers] have not been fired.”
“Our positions remain solid within our schools, and therefore there can be no vacancy list generated by the Ministry Education to replace us,” he added. Moreover, Lyte said, “we have engaged our lawyer and we are prepared to take legal action if the TSC moves at the whims of the Department or Ministry of Education.”
But even more disturbing have been reports that even non-academics have been helping to man some schools, Lyte said.
The GTU President said that the union has heard of cleaners being dispatched to classes, even as he added, “in the places where they have dorms, the dorm mothers and fathers are asked to hold classes, the lab attendant and lab technicians, the librarians…all these persons are asked to hold classes. Is that what this government really wants to see happen to our children?”
According to Lyte, although a number of other schools remain open they are merely being overseen by about four teachers and a number of retirees. The reports, Lyte added, suggest that “all these individuals are able to do is keep the children in a classroom; no work is being done and that is what parents need to understand.”
Lyte highlighted that because of the inaction of government, yesterday, the third day of the new school year has arrived and “nothing has been done in several schools across this country and there has been no intervention [by government]. Is that saying that you care? I believe this government has to do better…”
“Several parents have indicated that they are concerned and they are asking us whether they should send their children to school, but that is not our call,” said Lyte, who however added, “we continue to say to parents, it is your call, the union will not say send or don’t send…you have to decide whether you are going to put your children in the hands of people you are not certain about.”
PREPARED TO RENEGOTIATE
“Instead of running around trying to fill schools with substitutes and retired persons, they should be at the table addressing our concerns if they so care about the children of this country,” said Lyte.
Lyte, who stood on the picket-line in front of the 26 Brickdam, Georgetown Ministry of Education headquarters yesterday, along with what appeared to be hundreds of teachers on both sides of the thoroughfare, said that the union is calling on government to “do the right thing”.
Although last week President David Granger said that his government is looking for sources of funding to meet the teachers’ salary needs, Lyte said that up to yesterday the union had not heard any word from government.
The union, on behalf of its membership, is demanding a 40 percent across the board increase for 2016 and five percent each for the following four years [2017-2020].
But Lyte made it clear yesterday that the union is no longer prepared to deal with the Education Minister, who had in fact called upon the Ministry of Social Protection to exercise its powers of conciliation through its Labour Department in the matter. The union had also earlier said too that it had no confidence in the Labour Department to conduct an impartial process of conciliation, and had therefore called for arbitration facilitated by neutral persons.
This call has, however, not been endorsed by either the Ministry of Social Protection or the Ministry of Education.
Fearing that there might have been some shortcomings on the part of those who were tasked negotiate on the government side, Lyte yesterday said “We are calling the government [back] to the negotiation table; I think this is beyond the Minister of Education. I realized we are not getting anywhere with the Minister of Education and we can’t trust the Ministry of Social Protection,” said Lyte.
He moreover disclosed yesterday that the union will not be opposed to negotiating directly with President Granger. “If the President intervenes, we believe that we will be able to return to the negotiation table for us to renegotiate our position forward.”
Lyte divulged yesterday that the union has already created a working table and “the numbers are available that we would want to see come to the table. But we would not be putting that out to give any ideas…we have been looking at what can be acceptable at the various scales.”
But the union has not been working in isolation. According to Lyte, the union had in fact retained the services of a certified economist and several accountants too. In addition to that, he said, “We have several past administrators, persons who worked with Ministry of Finance giving us advice along the way, we have a good corps of people who are behind the scenes working for us.”
CIVIC SOCIETY SUPPORT
Although many teachers rested from protest action on Tuesday, yesterday teachers came out in massive numbers across the country.
“Today is an official [protest] day all across Guyana, and I envision today we will be topping 6,000 teachers, because we have since learnt that Essequibo which was reluctant, is now fully on board. Berbice, the Upper Corentyne in particular, they are now fully on board too; Linden has been fully on board and yesterday’s [Tuesday] number was over 2,000 and today [yesterday] we envision more persons joining in…it will be bigger and bigger as the day progresses,” Lyte said, even before noon yesterday.
The protest action in Georgetown saw some teachers not only using pots and spoons to grab attention, but they chanted in unison their call for improved wages and salaries, even as they took jabs at government Ministers.
“Scott is a toilet paper” said the protestors referencing the Minister with responsibility for Labour, Keith Scott, who had days earlier called teachers “uncaring” and “selfish”. They also chanted ‘Phagwali must go’ a moniker assigned to Education Minister, Nicolette Henry, after confusing Diwali and Phagwah during an address she gave.
Lyte yesterday also reassured teachers that they will be eligible for strike relief for monies that are lost, even as he disclosed that the union has also started to receive support from civil society.
“We have organizations as well as individuals supporting us…an individual called all the way from the USA pledging funds which the union will be receiving so that we can help provide things like water and refreshments for our teachers who are out here and we have organizations pledging things like rice and so for us to cook. So we have support from civic society, because they understand the plight of teachers,” said Lyte.
The situation that teachers face is daunting when the cost of living is taken into consideration. This is due to the fact, he said, that “The lowest paid teacher receives a little over $60,000 and a principal will carry home just over $120,000 depending on the grade of the school…so the salaries are small for the volume of work we have to do.”
Even as he stressed the need for government to intervene, Lyte insisted that “Our cause is not political. We have tried our utmost to stay away from political influence, as you can see we have not engaged the political opposition on this matter, because we understand that we don’t need to bring the politicians in this. We don’t need to make this a PPP or an APNU or AFC matter. This is a teachers’ matter; this is a bread and butter issue.”
On this note, Lyte in responding to claims that the union’s General Secretary, Ms Coretta McDonald, had sought to compare the treatment of teachers by the previous and current administrations, said “I want to apologize to the nation on her behalf, as President [of the union] it is not our intention that we are on a political witch hunt of this government….we have a bigger issue which is the ‘bread and butter matter’.”
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Social Protection, by way of letter, yesterday invited representatives of the Ministry of Education and the GTU to attend a meeting at its Brickdam, Georgetown Labour Department to continue discussion on the salary issue.
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