“It is extremely critical that we bring somebody who will bring a balance,” said President of the Guyana Teachers’ Union [GTU], Mr. Mark Lyte, of the person who is yet to be appointed to chair the arbitration panel which will be tasked with negotiating a salary package for teachers.
It is expected that the arbitration panel will see the union choosing one person, government choosing another, and both sides agreeing on the chairperson.
But according to Lyte at a press conference held at the GTU’s Woolford Avenue, Georgetown headquarters yesterday, “of course from the government side and the other side you will have people with their own perspective”. He moreover noted that “it is very important for us to look for someone who will provide a neutral balance for both teachers and government, looking at what the economy can afford and offer, and also looking at what is needed for teachers to be given liveable wage and other benefits they deserve.”
He therefore added, “The challenge is finding someone who will not be politically influenced; someone who will bring that neutral balance to the team.”
The union, Lyte disclosed, has already started to eye a number of viable candidates for the panel, including some residing outside of Guyana.
“We have several affiliates around the Caribbean that we can call upon to be a part of the panel [so] it doesn’t exclude outside persons being included on the panel…so that might very well be an option going forward,” Lyte said, even as he added, “we are looking at several options right now.”
It is anticipated that the members of the panel will be named by next week.
The arbitration panel, once appointed, will be looking to derive a suitable multi-year salary agreement for teachers spanning the period 2016-2020. Although Lyte was not in a position to say how long the process will take, he did share, “from the union’s perspective we will be looking for a time frame of not more than two months.” In fact, he speculated that “the persons on the panel are persons who will be paid, and so they would not want to be going on for a fixed fee for a lengthy period of time, so that is a plus on our side.”
Meanwhile, Lyte in responding to a question about the percentage increase the union would be happy with, said that a liveable wage for teachers will translate to an increase of no less than 20 percent. He said that although the union had proposed a 40 percent across the board increase for its membership for 2016, it had envisaged that the negotiations with government would have seen teachers being able to take home at least 20 percent. The union had also proposed an additional five percent for teachers for the following four years.
“When we did our calculation that would have been reasonable, but in negotiations you can’t put forward what you are exactly requesting, and that’s a point that was missed by many of the people across Guyana. In negotiations you can’t start at a figure or a percentage that you intend to get, you always have to find a way to negotiate downwards. The union could not have been aiming for 20 percent and ask for 20 that would have been broken down,” Lyte explained.
However, with Thursday’s agreement between the union and the Education Ministry to head to arbitration, neither the union’s proposal nor government’s $700 million ballpark figure payout to teachers for 2018 will determine the way forward.
Rather, the way forward will be paved by the arbitration panel which will mediate with a view of bringing to fruition a resolution to the impasse between the two concerned parties.
“Saying what percentage we would like to have is no longer a factor, the arbitration panel will fully decide what teachers deserve,” Lyte said at yesterday’s press conference.
In addition to determining the percentage increase for teachers, the arbitration panel will also seek to bring about a resolution to a number of other financial matters, including the debunching monies owed to teachers since 2011. Lyte added, “Those will be the major issues that the panel will be dealing with…they will [also] be looking at clothing allowance, risk allowance; several things that were proposed that were of a financial nature.”
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