The Guyana Teachers’ Union has been outwitted. The union may have felt that it scored a victory by forcing the government into arbitration, but it is union which has been outfoxed by the government.
The union made a major blunder in prematurely calling for and agreeing to arbitration. It has made an even greater mistake by now admitting publicly that it was prepared to settle for a 20% increase, instead of 40%. This latter revelation has exposed the misguided strategy of the union: aim high and settle low.
The teachers whom the union represents deserve better. Teachers need a bump-up in their salaries. For more than forty years, teachers have been working for a non-livable wage. For more than forty years, they have been receiving droplet increases from government.
The only way that teachers will ever receive a livable wage is if they receive a bump-up in wages that would allow them to eventually graduate towards a livable wage. A 40% increase in wages would have given teachers that bump-up.
And even though the union has always signaled that it was willing to settle for less, it is now being reported that they were willing to settle for 20%. What is 20% going to do for teachers whose salaries are already small and when one third of the 20% will go back in taxes?
The union has now played right into the government’s hand. The 20% admission prejudices the outcome of the arbitration. No arbitration team, in the light of this admission, is going to award teachers an award higher than 20%. The teachers will probably end up with a 10% increase.
The union should have stayed quiet. It should not have said what it would have admitted, because it will not be able now to press for more than this sum in the arbitration.
The admission that the union was willing to settle for half of what it demanded will weaken the union’s case in front of the arbitrators. It supports, rather than contradicts, the President’s contention that the 40% recommendation by the Task Force was deficient.
If the union was willing to accept 20%, then why did it reject the $700M which was offered by the government? The union’s principal representation is for nursery, primary and secondary school teachers, all of whom are underpaid.
The union has no business in fighting for higher wages for tutors in tertiary institutions. Its mandate is for nursery, primary and secondary school teachers.
The total employment costs budgeted for nursery, primary and secondary education for 2018 amounts to 3.3 billion dollars. 20% of that amount is less than the $700M which the government offered and which was rejected by the union.
The teachers’ union has been claiming victory. But the union has not won anything as yet. On the contrary, it has been outsmarted by the government.
At his recent press conference, the President said that the government was looking to see where it could make cuts, in government expenditure, to finance wage increases for the teachers. The government no longer has to make any cuts or look for any areas to reduce expenditure, because the union has prematurely agreed to arbitration.
In other words, the onus is no longer on the government to make cuts. It is the union which now has to show that the money is there for higher wages. They have closed off the option of the government trying to find more money to pay teachers. No wonder the government agreed, less than two weeks into the strike, to go to arbitration
The government’s defence in the arbitration will be that the economy cannot afford the demands of the union. The arbitrators will not likely demand that the government cut its present programmes.
This is why the government agreed so easily to go to arbitration. The government no longer has to change its programmes. It no longer has to cut out the extravagance and wastage of funds.
Instead of forcing the government to make cuts, the burden now rests with the union to show that the monies to pay the increases are available, without affecting the government’s programmes. The union has played right into the hands of government.
Now that the union has claimed that it was willing to accept 20%, it must explain to teachers what demand it is going to make in front of the arbitration team. I reiterate that its admission that it would have settled for 20% has prejudiced its position even before the arbitration has commenced.
The union has to also explain to teachers why it wore green-coloured T-shirts to the meeting with the government. What message was it sending to the government by wearing those colours? Since when is green the colour of the union?
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