By Lakhram Bhagirat
The Guyana Teachers Union (GTU) is accusing Government of sidelining and disrespecting it as a representative body, and is threatening a countrywide strike that could commence as early as next week if the Ministry of Education, and by extension the Government of Guyana, fails to take decisive action to address its concerns.
GTU President Mark Lyte told a press conference on Thursday that the Administration continues to disrespect the union by refusing to take any decisive action in regard to its proposals for salary increases and other benefits. In retaliation for this inaction, the union has said, GTU would be calling out its members to engage in strike action that would basically shut down the entire public education system.
The planned strike could become a reality as soon as next week. Asked if the GTU would enjoy the backing of the 6,000 plus teachers it represents, Lyte unhesitatingly assured that teachers would be on the frontline of any strike action initiated.
“The Guyana Teachers’ Union will be calling teachers out of the classrooms. The Guyana Teachers’ Union feels that we have no other alternative. It seems as though we have been taken for granted. We will be calling our teachers out of the classrooms not to protest, but we will be calling our teachers to strike if there are no swift actions; and this can be as soon as next week. I am saying to the powers that be that the talk time should end,” he warned.
“Every teacher is desirous (of a salary increase); every teacher is desirous of clothing allowance; every teacher wants to see added incentives given for qualifications; every teacher wants to see an increase stated to be given to teachers. We haven’t seen this in the last two years, and having said this and gone around to the various branches, they have said to me in no uncertain terms that, ‘If the Union calls us out, we will be behind you’,” Lyte detailed.
Lyte warned that the only way the strike action could be averted is if the Ministry of Education decides to take decisive action in regard to the GTU issues, since the time for talking is over.
The issues of concern to the union range from the stagnated negotiation between the GTU and the Ministry of Education for increased teachers’ remuneration, to the matter of outstanding payments.
Additionally, the union is concerned about the recent memorandum that could see teachers having to work during their designated lunch period.
Lyte said that, after more than two years, officials at the Ministry of Education remain reluctant to have a sit down with the Union and discuss debunching payments. He noted that the teachers are becoming more frustrated by the day, and warned of the consequences if the teachers decide to down tools to make their voices heard.
“Another budget would be presented and we have not come to an agreement for the proposal. We believe that this is disrespectful and comes in direct contravention to the labour agreement (in effect) between the Ministry and the Union, and it is a clear fact that this administration is not seeking to properly remunerate our teachers,” Lyte said.
Meanwhile, General Secretary of the GTU, Coretta McDonald, has said teachers have recognised that they are not being treated with the respect they deserve. She added that the union has been submitting, resubmitting, discussing, and having long vacations in regard to the welfare of teachers.
“We are here most recently to talk about the salaries proposal we have submitted to the Government since November of 2016…We have been talking to our counterparts, and it seems as though some of those words have gone on deaf ears; and so we want the public to understand the plight we are finding ourselves in, and the situation our teachers are finding themselves in. In some cases, they are being placed in a box or being backed into a wall,” she said.
“The Guyana Teachers Union believes that due process must be executed, hence the reason for the discussion. We are committed to the task of making things happen in the education sector. We cannot continue to push if the teachers are not comfortable. We don’t want to go down the line (of) having the worst-case scenario, where we have to call our teachers out of the classroom. That is the last stage where we would have to go to; but, again, if nothing is going to happen, and it means that we will have to force the hands of the powers that be, then we will have to go down that line,” McDonald added.
In 2011, President David Granger, as Opposition Leader, wrote to former GTU President Colin Bynoe, promising to value the work of teachers among a whole host of other things.
However, the Government, although comprised of several former teachers, is yet to address the concerns of teachers.