Conciliation talks: Govt rejects GTU’s 20% across-the-board increase ultimatum

Education Ministry officials and GTU representative during the discussions on Tuesday

…says demand shocked Ministry, unreasonable

The sudden ultimatum by the Guyana Teachers’ Union (GTU) to demand that the Government pay all teachers a 20 per cent across-the-board increase before it further engages the Education Ministry in conciliation talks has shocked education authorities and has been rejected.

On day two of conciliation talks held between the Education Ministry and the GTU, a document citing a demand for an interim 20 per cent across-the-board salary payment for teachers was presented to the Chief Labour Officer by representatives of the GTU.

The Union demanded that the interim 20 per cent increase be paid to teachers before any conciliation regarding the time frame for the payment period for salary increases continues.

The demand made by the GTU is aside from monies to be paid to teachers when a payment period for the multi-year agreement is decided upon.

Additionally, the Union requested that Labour Minister Joseph Hamilton recuse himself from the negotiations process.

Before this, both parties on Tuesday had agreed on terms of resumption (TOR) agreement and were prepared to sign said document presented by the Union, so that there was no victimisation of either party.

The document stipulated that during the consideration of the matter in dispute, there shall be no strike, stoppage of work whether of a partial or general nature, go-slow, boycott, picketing, retardation of production, or any other interference with the Ministry’s operations, by the Union.

In addition, the TOR stated that there shall not be any lockout or any other form of interference with the Ministry’s operations, by the Union, nor shall there be any lockout or any other form of interference by the Ministry.

At a specially convened press briefing on Wednesday, Education Minister Priya Manickchand stated that the request by the Union was unreasonable and made it clear that the Government would not sign off on the Union’s request and would also not negotiate under duress.

She contends that GTU was setting a “very bad precedent not only for the Guyana Government but for Governments across the region”.

Education Minister Priya Manickchand

“My position is given that the Union is a union of many years, they’re not new. They didn’t start two years ago. This is a long-standing union who have had some honourable positions in the past, so they know unions. Given the fact that they know this is not how industrial relations output. My conclusion could only be that they intended to derail this process. They do not intend to have a conciliation. They want to keep teachers on the road. They want to be disruptive to the education system. And we believe that is … politically, directed because no one who has the interest of children at heart could tell me that this is a good place to be in.”

Manickchand further disclosed that the door was still open for the Union to rescind its demand and come on Monday when both parties are expected to meet again.

She explained that after Monday, the Government would take action against the Union, and distance learning would be instituted in homes to combat the current learning loss.

“We have a standing, sacred-almost duty to make sure that we look after children and anything that comes in the way of that has to be treated condignly and swiftly with solutions.

“I hope that the same members in that Union body can take the Union back and bring it to that place (of being reasonable), so that on Monday we end up with a resolution and conciliation agreement where we go to the table and engage in the conciliation process. If that breaks down, then there is a place for arbitration,” the Minister added.

Conciliation talks

The GTU and the Guyana Government, through the Education Ministry, on Monday met for conciliation talks regarding the ongoing teachers’ strike, which resumed last Thursday, May 9, 2024.

This was facilitated following the issuance of a letter from the Official of the Education Ministry to the Labour Ministry requesting that its Subject Minister, Joseph Hamilton intervene in the matter with the GTU.

It is said that the engagement is part of efforts to come to an agreement on the period over which teachers will be paid, which Government said should commence from 2024 onwards, however, GTU wants the talks to be centred on the 2019-to-2024 period.

Efforts to contact GTU officials for a comment on these developments proved futile.

Resumption of strike

The GTU resumed strike action across the country Thursday last, after talks between the Union and the Education Ministry reportedly broke down.