It is no surprise that the government keeps losing people to the private sector. Last week the news came that the government had lost nineteen engineers to the private sector. It could have been that if the engineers were scholarship holders then they would have had to serve out a period with the government.
But then again, some people opt to pay off the debt and move on. This is possible because of the greater earning.
Over the years the salaries offered by the private sector have outstripped the government, and this is not because the job is less important when it is in government hands.
Indeed the private sector has always paid more largely, because the profits don’t have to be used to develop the country. Yes, it goes to paying dividends and the rest to the bank account of the private sector body.
The government, however, must think about the various aspects of national development. There are roads, schools and hospitals to be built, salaries to be paid to the non-earning sectors, in that they do not bring in money.
At one time the government was structured into the public sector and the state corporation. The latter paid better because they earned a lot of money, some of which went back into the corporation. And when there was pay increases, the corporations always got a higher rate than the public sector.
So it was that the salaries of teachers, nurses, and clerks lagged behind the corporations. Most people who left school therefore tried to get into the corporations or into the private sector. I stopped being a teacher back in 1973 because the Ministry of Information was paying fifteen dollars a month more.
From my vantage point, it looks as if the salaries of teachers and nurses have been moving backward when compared with the rest of the public sector.
At a Commonwealth forum in Guyana, I spoke with the Finance Minister of Malaysia. The conversation was about the salaries of nurses and teachers. She said that the country recognises the importance of teachers, who are indeed the bedrock of the society.
The result is that they are the third highest paid people in the country after the politicians and the doctors. It makes sense. With education, the money to be spent on other sectors is less. For example, the more educated a person is, the less likely that person would commit serious crimes and necessitate the presence of increased police ranks.
Similarly, people are more likely to avoid the non-communicable diseases and thus reduce the expenditure on the health sector.
At the same time, teachers would produce the engineers and the needed skilled individuals in the society. Were there no teachers there would be no doctors, no engineers, and certainly no computer analysts and scientists.
When I visited Korea it was the same; teachers are among the better paid in the country. The argument is the same applied by Malaysia.
The better paid people are the nurses and the teachers. The nurses are the caregivers.
I remember the then President, Bharrat Jagdeo, telling me that he would like to pay more to the nurses and teachers, but their numbers are so large that any increase would impact the coffers, negatively.
I then asked him about cutting the money paid to some sectors, for example the contract workers. He smiled and replied that the contract workers are providing a needed service; that they have to be paid for a skill that is almost non-existent in the country.
There is more. A teacher coming out as a rookie is paid almost as much as one who has been in the system for a long time. One forty-year-old teacher said to me that she earns just over eighty thousand dollars a month. I couldn’t believe it.
A rookie reporter earns as much if not more. And some of the rookies have a torrid time stringing together a sentence or matching subject and verb.
Small wonder that the better qualified people do not gravitate to the teaching profession. Young people feel that they deserve more for their qualifications. I talk to people who say that they are job-hunting. I would recommend the teaching profession, and they would almost all say, the pay isn’t worth the effort.
And the effort is a lot. These days there are students who have no problem resorting to violence. No teacher wants to go to school and feel like a soldier heading to battle.
I now hear that some schools in some countries have teachers who are allowed to carry guns. I am not recommending that for Guyana.
The present administration says that it is looking at the salaries of nurses and teachers. Indeed, it has improved certain areas of the take home pay. There is now a clothing allowance and something that was missing in my day, duty free allowance for vehicles.
But when I look at the salary, I am left to wonder how the teacher is going to be able to afford a car. Some people talk about the holidays that teachers get. The suggestion is that the teacher gets large periods of rest.
But from time immemorial, teachers were made aware that the holidays were for the children; that teachers were expected to attend programmes organised by the Education Ministry. And the attending teachers were not paid travelling allowances.
I look at the money paid to the heads of certain departments and I feel sorry for the teachers. But then again, some of them have done nothing to improve their lot. They did not try to improve their qualifications.
The good ones who were recruited by foreign agencies, including the United States, had to be good, and in the end they made money.
Not many have come back from Botswana and the Bahamas where there was no hesitation to recruit retired Guyanese teachers. The government may do well to look at this.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper)
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