The teachers’ strike ended last Thursday and schools have reopened. The Ministry of Education and the Guyana Teachers Union (GTU) have agreed to arbitrate their dispute. The two sides reached an agreement on the dispute that has ended the impasse. Based on the recommendation by the high level Task Force appointed by President Granger last year, the GTU was demanding a 40 percent pay hike for 2016 and five per cent annually from 2017 to 2020. The government has stated it will cost the state four billion dollars to meet the union demands. However, its offer of $700 million, which is the equivalent of less than 5 percent was rejected by the majority of teachers.
Having misunderstood the seriousness of the teachers’ strike, which was a major blunder on the part of the government, it finally did the right thing by agreeing to arbitration and putting an end to the strike which could have been detrimental to society. It would have been counterproductive for the government to allow the strike to continue and deprive thousands of students of their education.
However, many, including teachers and parents, felt that the overwhelming support for the strike by teachers, parents and the public in general has forced the government to bend to the union’s demands for arbitration which would be binding on both sides. They felt that it was a victory by the teachers and their union led by its spirited president, Mark Lyte. They contend that the government should have known that the teachers were not afraid of the threats made by the Minister of Education to use substitute teachers. The threats did not prevent the strike; instead, the teachers felt that the Minister erred, because the manpower might have been available to replace them, but not the expertise. They opined that had the strike continued, most parents would not have tolerated the idea of unqualified persons teaching their children.
The teachers’ solidarity has yielded results. If it had not, the disrespect that would have been meted out to teachers by the authorities would have been extremely painful. However, both parties have agreed that the resumption of work would result in no loss of pay or seniority for teachers and there would be no victimisation by either side. The union is hoping that the arbitration process would be completed by the end of the year.
Others, mostly teachers from the rural areas of the country are disappointed that the Guyana Teachers’ Union acted hastily and called off the strike prematurely. They claimed that the leaders of the union may have felt that they were victorious in forcing the government to accept arbitration, instead of conciliation but it is the government that had triumphed. In their opinion, the union has blundered when it settled for arbitration and its public announcement that it was prepared to settle for a 20 percent increase, instead of 40 as recommended by the high-level Task Force established by President Granger last year. This latter revelation was clearly a misguided strategy by the union to aim high and then signal its intention to settle for less.
Based on the divergent views, the union is now faced with the daunting task to unite its members. The decision by the union to accept a 20 percent increase has made extremely difficult for it to ask for a higher amount and it is highly unlikely that the arbitration team would comply.
The union has weakened its case and it’s likely that teachers may probably end up with less. It seems that the union gambled and lost because the onus is no longer on the government to cut expenditures as the president has stated, in order to pay higher wages to teachers. But they deserve a 40 percent increase in order to place them in a livable wage bracket, which is less than the 50 percent given to ministers. That said, the strike by the GTU has set a precedent for other unions to follow.
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