It has been months since the Guyana Teachers’ Union (GTU) was last engaged by the Ministry of Education (MoE) and President of the union Mark Lyte stated that if the ministry does not treat with the union by the end of the month, it will consider taking “drastic” action.
Lyte said the union was “appalled and saddened” that Minister of Education Dr Rupert Roopnaraine had referred to the negotiations as “discussions” in the media. “In our view the negotiations started in January after we had made our submission in December last year and discussions were held with the permanent secretary, the advisor to the minister and the human resources officer of the Ministry of Education in January and subsequent negotiations were done with the minister being present and other Ministry of Education officers in February,” Lyte said, stating that since then the union has been trying to get the attention of the ministry so they can continue to negotiate but, to this date, has failed. “It is a very sad situation when we hear the ministry at almost every forum saying that teachers should be given better salaries, that teachers should have better working conditions,” Lyte added, saying that the minister saying such things gives the union the impression that one thing is being said to the public and another is being done. The union therefore called on the minister to pay keen attention and to act with urgency in dealing with the negotiations so that closure can be given to the teachers about their fate for the next four years.
The GTU has asked government for massive pay raises over the next five years, which Lyte had previously argued is needed to ensure that teachers are paid a “living wage.”
The proposed increases are so substantial that, if granted, a Trained Non-Grad Teacher who currently earns $84,921 per month will in 2020 earn $581,815. An untrained graduate would be earning $804,103 while a trained graduate who now earns $131,195 can look forward to being paid $898,849. All of these represent a cumulative increase of 585% over the salaries currently being earned.
According to the “Proposed memorandum of agreement entered into between the Ministry of Education and the GTU concerning terms and conditions of employment for teachers and teacher educators for the years 2016-2020,” the union is asking for a 40% increase in 2016, a 45% increase in 2017, 50% in 2018, 50% in 2019 and 50% in 2020.
The union submitted its proposal for a new multi-year agreement after the expiration of the 2010-2015 agreement on December 31, 2015. That agreement provided for teachers to receive a 5% across-the-board increase in each of the years covered under the agreement, it followed a similar agreement which provided teachers 5% from 2006 to 2010.
Lyte yesterday said that from the union’s perspective it seems as if the ministry only acknowledges the importance of the GTU when it has something on its agenda to be accomplished. He added that this is possibly a case of disrespect and the ministry not appreciating the partnership and how important it is.
While the union had set no internal deadline for the conclusion of the negotiations, Lyte said he believed they should have concluded since the end of April based on what the Minister of Finance had set out in the budget, but it is almost the middle of May and the third meeting was yet to be convened.
He explained that the union wrote to the minister indicating its position and highlighting that it was dissatisfied with the pace of progress, but was yet to receive any response. “We are at a point where the union will have to do something drastic. Obviously take some other form of industrial action,” he said.” The protest didn’t work so we will have to look at something more drastic.” Lyte said that while the union believes that the issues can be solved with dialogue, nothing is happening to indicate that progress is being made and if by the end of May nothing happens, a special general council meeting will be convened to decide on the course of action.
Because of their “poor” salaries many teachers are unhappy and Lyte said the union believes more has to be done by the MoE to resolve some of the outstanding matters and for people from the central ministry to exude the same standard of professionalism that is being asked of the teachers. “These negotiations are very important because [they] will indicate to our teachers how much they are appreciated by this present administration,” he added.
And while progress with the negotiations for salary increases has been stagnant, the GTU has made progress with the debunching payments. Lyte explained yesterday that there was agreement with the ministry that the debunching would be paid to the teachers, as it was inked in the multiyear agreement as 1% of the teachers’ wage bill. “We have received correspondence from the Ministry of Education that teachers will be paid for that 1% from 2011 to 2015 as agreed on,” he added, stating that they are anxiously awaiting that payment.
In terms of duty-free concessions, Lyte told the media that several teachers who have retired and are on the verge of retiring were contacted last Wednesday to take their quotations for vehicles to the ministry so as to collect their letters from the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA). “We must show appreciation for the effort put forward by the present administration to address these matters,” Lyte added.
Using the forum to address issues teachers are facing around the country, Lyte explained that a mass of teachers feel that the manner in which they are handled by education officers is contrary to how teachers should be treated, which raises concerns with the GTU.
Lyte also highlighted that the union feels that the staff at the central ministry need to be shuffled to make way for more vibrant people who will push for the system to move forward. “We can’t have people sitting in pivotal positions and they are stagnating the process,” he said, questioning whether the ministry can handle bigger projects if they can’t handle something as simple as the teachers’ welfare.
In relation to the court matter between the GTU and the Teaching Service Commission (TSC) on promotions, Lyte explained that a decision should be made soon and while they had protested for seven weeks, they had stopped because of the court matter. He said they are optimistic that the outcome will be favourable to the union and if it is not, a special general council meeting will be called to address the actions that will be taken.