Kaieteur News – Jagdeo does not get it. He so immersed in his own world and that of his friends that he has become uprooted from the realities faced by the working class.
For him, the teachers strike represents a political salvo by a union which he feels is an Opposition-controlled union. He overlooks the fact that it was the same union and under the same leadership that took strike action against the APNU+AFC.
Unlike the APNU+AFC which at least gave the appearance of engaging in collective bargaining and then began to filibuster, the PPPC government has refused adamantly to engage in collective bargaining with the Guyana Teachers’ Union on the issue of a multi-year wage package.
The PPPC claims to have been engaging the union on issues relating to benefits and other conditions of service. It says that agreements were reached on a number of demands.
But the same Ministry of Education last July made it clear that it was the Office of the President that deals with multi-year wages agreement with teachers. The government can hardly therefore contend that it has been negotiating with the union on a multi-year wage package.
Any Minister of Education that is told that the Ministry of Education should not handle multi-year wages agreement with teachers, should do the decent thing
A multi-year wage package is a desirable development in the relationship between teachers and the government. Such an agreement avoids the union and the government having sit down across a table every year and hammer out increases for workers. It provides stability to the teaching profession because teachers and other educators know just what to expect in each year when it comes to salaries and benefits.
The PPPC has in the past had multi-year agreements with the GTU. It was under Jagdeo’s Presidency that a multi-year agreement was signed between the government and the GTU for the period 2006-2010 and another agreement signed under the Ramotar administration which covered the period 2011-2015.
But the present administration has been pussyfooting when it comes to negotiating a multi-year agreement with the teachers. In a display of total contempt for the union, the government met with a select group of teachers, rather than with the union, to ascertain their concerns.
After that engagement certain benefits and adjustments to the salaries of select categories of teachers were announced. The adjustments were generous but the imposition was a flagrant violation of the Collective Bargaining Agreement with the GTU. But this is how the PPPC operates.
It does not believe in collective bargaining because it feels it has the prerogative to determine what increases teachers, public servants and sugar workers should receive. It imposed a 6.5% increase on these public sector workers last year without any discussions with the GTU, the Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU) or the Guyana Agricultural Workers’ Union (GAWU).
The government feels somehow that it knows what is best for these workers. It feels that it has the right to tell them what they should receive without any negotiations with the unions.
Naturally, the teachers want an increase in their salaries. Who would not given what is taking place in the overheated economy? Teachers have not been unreasonable in the past. When in 1999, public servants were awarded a 31.6% increase in salaries in 1999 following arbitration; the teachers had to settle for a 10% and 12%.
Today teachers, admittedly, are earning far more than public servants. A trained teacher (and by now the entire education system should have been purged of untrained teachers) is receiving a salary of more than G$200,000.
An entry level public servant is not earning half of that. Therefore, teachers are better off than public servants and they are better off today than they were in 2019. But that is not the point and this is something that Jagdeo probably is incapable of understanding.
This strike is about respect: respect for teachers and their union. The government has no respect for teachers when it refuses to negotiate salary increases for workers but instead imposes those increases. This is what the strike is all about: it is a demand for collective bargaining, a demand for respect and an end to the government arbitrarily deciding on its own what it will or will not pay to workers.
Teachers need to be shown respect and this is what is not happening because the government has issues with persons within the leadership of the union. But it is those very persons who also called strike action against the APNU+AFC which at least had the decency to engage in negotiations with the union.
Jagdeo and Exxon playing cat and mouse games with our future.
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