Guyana: Teachers threaten strike action

Guyana Chronicle:-  DISSATISFIED with the outcome of a meeting with the Ministry of Education (MoE) on Thursday morning, the Guyana Teacher’s Union has threatened to call out teachers on a strike come this September after their union rejected a government proposal of some $700M for salary increases for 2018.

President of the GTU, Mark Lyte, was met by immediate chants of “No School” from a collection of teachers, gathered outside of the MoE building, when they heard that the GTU could not accept what the MoE was offering. “We are militant right now. We need to march, we need to make these people hear us. Teachers have endured too much for too long, we have to take a formal stance. Full strike, school door don’t open,” said one teacher.

The teachers asked for the strike to begin from the pre-term activities in the week prior to school reopening and a continued absence of teachers in the first week of school. School is expected to resume on September 3. The GTU/MoE meeting marked the last of several that the two bodies have been having over the years as they continue to fail to come to an agreement on a way forward as it pertains to several issues facing the teachers, most pressing of those being salary negotiations and the teacher’s debauching monies.

“The GTU, coming out of this meeting, cannot say that we are in agreement of what has been counter proposed. We could have only agreed on a few things that were mentioned in the proposal,” Lyte informed his impassioned audience. “One of the most important areas would have been the debauching and increases (in salaries) by way of percentages. The government’s side made an offer with effect to current dates which we rejected. The union cannot accept current date payment when we would not have had an agreement from 2016 to now, so we would want things to be retroactively addressed.”

According to Lyte, the MoE, instead of offering percentage in salary increase, is offering the teachers an overall payout of $700M towards salaries. However, Lyte contended that when stretched across the approximately 10,000 teachers in the system the money will come up to very little individually. Moreover the monies only covers the 2018 period.
“It is chicken feed for the amount of teachers we have. And when we look at it the $700M would have only addressed current year and your union would not have accepted such,” Lyte told his members.

Braving the scorching sun, the some 80 odd teachers waited over two hours for the meeting to come to a close, and were adamant that “enough is enough.” The crowd included teachers from as far as Berbice, and Lethem, according to reports. Lyte attempted to get the teachers to wait until next Wednesday to make an official decision, however the crowd vehemently maintained that they were done waiting and wanted an immediate decision. This saw Lyte and other executives agreeing to an impromptu meeting, held immediately at the GTU compound, where the teachers continuously called for strike action. “We must agree on something now. We are not waiting. We are not waiting. We are not waiting,” was the chant from the crowd. “The next move for us as teachers is strike. We not going to work.” They maintained.

At the GTU meeting Lyte gave the teachers a breakdown of negotiations with MoE, noting that of 27 specific issues the MoE rejected or could not address 22 of them. Aside from strike action Lyte also noted that the body will be looking into legal action against the Ministry for other previously agreed upon terms that were not honoured by the Ministry. Other issues that the GTU calls on to be addressed include duty-free concessions, Whitley council monies, risk allowance monies, performance incentive, clothing allowance, improved qualification allowances, and hardline station allowance, among others. “We’re talking about thousands of dollars that are owed to us,” Lyte said.

Minister of State Joseph Harmon said on Monday that Minister of Education, Nicolette Henry had presented a report of the high-level committee on public education to Cabinet recently. That report, which contains important issues, was handed over last month. “You would recall that there were some recommendations made by the high-level committee; these recommendations required a response,” Minister Harmon said, adding: “Government, at the level of Cabinet, has prepared a response to those recommendations and it is the government’s response which would be given to the Union by the minister, and there would be further discussions.”

The task force was put together last November to address salary negotiations and other issues affecting teachers. The matters addressed included non-salary issues, allowances, de-bunching and matters highlighted during the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into the education sector, in addition to the GTU Multi-Year Agreement. “Cabinet deliberated on the report, gave its responses to the recommendations, and directed that the unions be re-engaged,” he said.

When the report was handed over to Minister Henry at her Brickdam office, the Education Ministry’s Permanent Secretary Vibert Welch said that after three months of intense deliberations, a number of favourable recommendations had been tabled. According to him, the recommendations made in the final report will likely attract more persons to the teaching profession, and encourage those who are already in it to remain.

The permanent secretary had said, too, that the high-level task force is optimistic that Cabinet would look favourably at the recommendations that were put forward. The GTU, too, through its president Mark Lyte at the time had expressed satisfaction with the proposals and recommendations made in the report. Lyte said it is important that the work of teachers in the classroom is recognised, and, like Welch, he too expects a favourable response from Cabinet.

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