Guyana Chronicle:- MINISTER of Education, Ms. Nicolette Henry, said talks between the Government of Guyana and the Guyana Teachers Union (GTU) held last Thursday were not concluded but rather, some aspects of the union’s terms were agreed and a decision was taken for another meeting to be held to iron out the outstanding issues.
However, she noted that the government remains committed to paying teachers their increases. The union has called on its members to go on strike and has since notified the Ministry of Education of its intention. In an invited comment with the Ministry of the Presidency’s Public Information and Press Services Unit, Minister Henry said that coming out of last week’s meeting, the two sides agreed to some recommendations, but noted that some could not be agreed, while others were completely withdrawn by the union.
“I want to point out that some were agreed on in part, because it required much more than one area. For instance, [on] the issue related to duty-free concessions, we agreed entirely on what was proposed; when it came to the issue of housing and the Revolving Fund, we agreed also. However, [on] the issue of salary and debunching, we did not agree on [sic] at all [since] the government proposed a ball park figure. In the case of debunching, we are looking at $200 million to address debunching for the year 2018. The union suggested that they believe that it should be retroactive and therefore they were not in agreement with looking at just 2018. In addition to that, the issue of salary also, for which we had allocated the sum of $700 million, they felt that should also be retroactive,” she explained.
Minister Henry said given the difference of opinions and the number of issues that had to be addressed, the union and the government’s side “agreed in principle that we will meet subsequently to address the issues that were not resolved at that first meeting. So, my understanding and at least the agreement that came out of that meeting, is that we will meet subsequently; and it is my intention to invite the union to continue to have meetings as was agreed [to] at our initial meeting.”
Breach of agreement
The Minister of Education said that based on this agreement therefore, the actions of the union are not in keeping with the position that was taken at the first meeting. However, she noted that she is prepared to invite the union back to the table before the week is through.
“I’m looking at a meeting this week, because it’s both urgent and important and therefore we need to ensure that we continue to address and resolve these issues in the most effective way and with also some amount of expediency,” Ms Henry said.
The Education Minister further explained that the reason the government’s side proposed a ball park figure had to do specifically with the process involved in debunching and salary increases. She noted that the union was asking for a 40 per cent increase across the board, which the ministry felt would have further compounded the issue related to debunching. “So we needed to address that issue and so we gave a figure on what is available in terms of financing to address the debunching issue. Once the debunching issue is addressed and teachers in this instance can be categorised and put into scales, then it will give you an opportunity to give what is allocated to salary increases in the respective categories… There is certainly nothing sinister or there is certainly no ulterior motive in awarding the ball park figure, because that did come up in the discussion. I just wanted to provide that clarity, because I believe that teachers and the Guyanese people need to understand what was proposed and why it was proposed,” Minister Henry said.
With the union calling for a countrywide strike, the minister noted that the David Granger- led administration is a pro-working class government and therefore believes that engagements for mutual satisfaction must be achieved. She also made it clear that remuneration will be given in keeping with what can be afforded at this time.
“We first and foremost believe that we need to engage, that we need to make teachers aware of where we are, what the government is doing and appeal to them that we are doing the best we can in the circumstances. We will ensure that the teachers are given increases in keeping, of course, with what we can afford,” she said. The Education Minister noted that it was agreed in the initial meeting that a consultant will be hired to determine how these monies are going to be allocated in the case of the teachers, regarding both debunching and salaries.
She noted that the government, over the past three years, has invested heavily in improving the education system to create a more conducive environment for teaching. Firstly, she noted that notwithstanding the absence of a multi-year agreement, the government provided salary increases in 2016 and 2017 for teachers in accordance with what was given to public servants.
“In order to improve the conditions of teachers, we have taken several decisions. One is that we have offered to provide grants to schools that have Science labs. There is the National Endowment for Science and Technology (NEST) programme, which is managed by the Ministry of the Presidency and that is to ensure that the environment the beneficiaries operate in are the best of what we can offer. In addition to that, we have increased stipends for teachers who are in training at the Cyril Potter College of Education by more than 50 percent. In addition to that, the Remote Area Incentive (RAI) for teachers who work in the hinterland has seen an 80 per cent increase in 2018,” she reminded.
Further to this, Minister Henry said that in an effort to make work less onerous and demanding on teachers, the ministry has been exploring support mechanisms, particularly through Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and by strengthening the human resource capacity.
“Let me say that we recruited monitors and coordinators to assist teachers in the classroom and so all of those things come with a cost, but it’s towards the development of the best interest of the people. I understand that teachers, like many other categories, feel that they should be given an increase and it is my intention to ensure that we give them an increase in keeping with what we can afford, in the best interest of the teachers and the people of this country. I would also like to point out that notwithstanding my responsibilities as Minister of Education, I believe that whenever we take a decision as government we have to look at the best interest of all of our people. I would want to ensure that what we offer to teachers is what we can afford, but also what we’re going to offer to other categories will be in keeping with the prevailing financial resources and it must operate within that context,” Minister Henry said.