…to commence strike action next week Friday
By Jarryl Bryan
In a new twist, an unsatisfied delegation from the Guyana Teachers Union (GTU) staged a walk out on officials of the Ministry of Education during a meeting on Thursday to discuss a proposed Multi-Year agreement.
Present at the meeting were Education Minister Nicolette Henry, Chief Education Officer Marcel Hutson and team; while the union had its President Mark Lyte, General Secretary, Coretta McDonald and other union members.
According to the Ministry in a statement after the meeting, the walk out was prompted by Minister Henry informing the union that Government could only offer teachers the same increases it offered all public servants.
Government had announced its “final offer” to the unionized workers in the Public Service—an increase in the minimum wage from $55,000 per month to $60,000 along with staggered increases in wages and salaries with the band of lowest paid workers being offered an eight per cent increase.
“Teachers, being public servants therefore will also benefit from the proposed wage increases,” the Ministry said. “Dissatisfied with the response, the GTU President decided that the meeting should not continue and together with his colleagues left the boardroom thereby leading to a premature end of the discourse.”
According to the Ministry, the GTU had informed them it has no problem with the Government’s approach to non-financial issues, based on the last meeting the union had with officials. The problems reportedly arose from the financial aspect of discussions which included salary increases, debunching, allowances and duty-free concessions.
“What should be noted is the fact that even as the GTU President Mr Lyte stood up to truncate the meeting; all other members of the union remained seated including the General Secretary of the union Ms Coretta Mc Donald. McDonald suggested to Mr Lyte to sign the non-financial aspect of the agreement but those pleas were not heeded.”
“Following the meeting, Minister Henry reiterated that at this point in time, the Government of Guyana is proposing to all of its public servants including teachers’ increases which have been made public,” the Ministry noted.
When contacted by this publication, Lyte stated that the walk out resulted from the Government not addressing the union’s substantive proposal. While noting that they remained open to talks with the Government, Lyte revealed that the union will be commencing countrywide strike action from next week.
“The talks were specific to proposals from the union two and a half years ago. The Minister, in her chairing of the meeting, subsequently tried to treat with matters outside of the purpose of the meeting.”
“Also, the Minister bluntly indicated during the five minutes or so the meeting lasted that the teachers would get the same that was offered (to) public servants, without even talking about what we proposed,” Lyte claimed, adding that the Government’s “imposition” would not be accepted this time around.
Among other proposals, the union was reportedly seeking a 40 per cent increase in salaries for teachers.
That being said, Lyte stated that a countrywide strike is expected to commence by next week Friday. This, according to the GTU President, is to allow enough time to ensure the membership is properly notified.
“Even in that interim, we are still open for something definitive to be put before us in terms of our proposal. (But) I take having the Minister trying to side-line the discussion this afternoon as an indication that the Administration was not prepared to treat with the proposal put forward.”
It was only on Wednesday that Leader of the Opposition, Dr Bharrat Jagdeo, had thrown his support behind the GTU and called for Government to have a sit down with the union. The union had recently threatened strike action over frustrated efforts to negotiate salary increases.
Jagdeo had expressed his support for a new agreement and had lauded the previous agreement that gave teachers a number of benefits. In light of this, Jagdeo had urged that the Government make meeting with the teachers a priority.
“Teachers have been calling for two and a half years now to have another agreement similar to the five year agreement that they had with us that had many benefits, for example money set aside for housing for teachers and duty free concessions for teachers of certain categories.”
“A lot of teachers are retiring now and they can’t get the benefits there. So I would urge that the Government meet urgently with those teachers and continue to have the discussions surrounding an agreement that would look at all those benefits the teachers enjoyed,” he stated.
At a press conference last week, Lyte had been critical of government refusing to act on proposals for salary increases and benefits. In retaliation for this inaction, he had said GTU would be calling out its members to engage in strike action.
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 had 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 had said.
The issues of concern to the union include the stagnated negotiation between the GTU and the Ministry of Education. This negotiation included for increased teachers’ remuneration and outstanding payments
Additionally, the union had expressed concern about a memorandum that could see teachers having to work during their designated lunch period.