Teachers to strike after last-ditch talks fail

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  • Ministry considering alternative arrangements

The multi-year impasse between the Guyana Teachers Union (GTU) and the Education Ministry remains unchanged following a stalemate between the two sides over salary increases; and union President Mark Lyte said on Thursday that the August 27 countrywide strike will go ahead as planned.

Immediately following the union’s announcement outside the Education Ministry on Brickdam, Georgetown, subject Minister, Nicolette Henry held an emergency press conference where she signalled that Government is already considering alternative measures to deal with the fallout from any strike action.

Education Minister, Nicolette Henry

The breakdown of talks followed a meeting between GTU representatives and Education Minister and labour officials at the Education Ministry. This came after a meeting which was held last week. The discussions on Thursday lasted over two hours and certain agreements were agreed upon but both sides held steadfast to their positions on salary increases as the union contemplates legal advice on its next moves.

“We are coming out very dissatisfied with this engagement for the simple reason that our salary issues were a major concern here. Increases in salaries and other financial benefits have all been pushed down; it remains the same. The union’s position would have to remain the same – disagreeing with them,” the GTU President asserted.

President of the GTU, Mark Lyte

Lyte told members of the media that the GTU outright rejected Government’s request for teachers to agree to a debunching payoff of $200 million for 2018/19. He said the Union similarly rejected the $700 million cap that was placed on salary increases. The stalemate also revealed that Government was not budging on the clothing allowance which remains at $8000. Lyte said too that for Whitley Council leave, teachers still have to wait four years before getting their one month off. GTU was appealing for three years.

He revealed that the Ministry indicated that it wants to maintain school boards with an improved staff, but the GTU is not in favour of this proposal since school boards and the Teaching Service Commission are “operating at a different level and there are a lot of problems”.

He however noted that the meeting did see the Ministry and the GTU come to an agreement for improved salaries for (SEN) Special Education Needs teachers which would help those schools that have dormitories to remove some of the “burden” that rests with head teachers.

The GTU during one of its protests

The two sides also determined that hinterland teachers will be allowed to return to their homes once per term. Lyte added that the Education Ministry is setting up a revolving fund committee to deal with the Teacher House Revolving Fund.

He further stated that there was some consensus on class sizing for certain categories of schools. Despite these agreements, Lyte was adamant that teachers must not accept what has been proposed.

“Incumbent now on the Minister of Labour to put in place an arbitrator-deliberator on this matter but in interim, the Union has to go forward with its plan; our teachers must send a strong statement, we don’t believe there will be another meeting,” Lyte stressed on Thursday.

Observing that industrial action is completely up to the Union’s discretion, Minister Henry pointed to legal stipulations that govern what the Education Ministry can do to cushion a situation where teachers would be off the job. In the meantime, however, she said she will make contact with Union representatives by Sunday afternoon.

“There is the internal Standard Operational Procedure (SoP) that is utilised by the Ministry of Education and its dated 2003 and the Permanent Secretary at that time would have circulated that and that was in effect and it would need to be reactivated and circulated is there is need for that to be,” Minister Henry committed.

The Government official noted that under this internal SoP, the administration has to ensure that there is always adult supervision at the schools in addition to hiring alternative persons to replace the striking teachers on a temporary basis. This arrangement, she indicated, will also provide an assessment of the impact of the strike and whether or not a school could remain open or be closed.

“What it says; parents have to get involved through PTAs (Parent-Teachers’ Association). It talks hiring of temporary persons in the classroom to fill those gaps; the number of persons on strike or on board; whether you go half-day or rotate but those are the technical issues I’ve asked my CEO that we have all of the preliminary work done in the event that we have to activate,” she noted.

She described the meeting as being “very productive” and noted that conciliation may be the next step as she awaits the Union to consult its constituents before announcing its next moves. She responded in the negative when questioned if the coalition has not lived up to what it promised teachers. Henry cautioned that increases will be based on the available resources and fiscal space.

 “As a Government, we have committed to improve salaries and working conditions of teachers… teachers benefited from increases in 2016, 2017,” she highlighted.

The GTU envisions that 90 per cent of teachers in the public schools were ready to support their U Junior nion’s move. Negotiations have been ongoing since 2015 when the Multi-Year Agreement came to an end.

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