Regional Executive Officer (REO) of Region Five Ovid Morrison has claimed that there is a regulation he is enforcing to withhold teachers’ salaries and the Guyana Teachers Union (GTU) is waiting to see same, before they decide their next course of action.
This is according to Minister of State Joseph Harmon, who was asked about the issue at yesterday’s post-Cabinet press briefing.
This was in view of the hundreds of teachers who turned up on Thursday at the Regional Democratic Council’s Office in Fort Wellington, West Berbice, to protest after Morrison instructed the education office to withhold the salaries of teachers who were going on vacation.
Harmon said Morrison had explained that there was a regulation which allowed for teachers who are applying to travel overseas on leave to either lodge one month’s salary or have it withheld from them.
“What I can say is this. That the REO when he appeared before the Public Accounts Committee was faced with a situation where the Public Accounts Committee asked for the region to give an explanation for over expenditure of about $80 million with respect to overpayment to teachers,” Harmon related. When the REO returned to the region, he reportedly found the regulation and decided to enforce it, Harmon said, adding that there was supposed to be a meeting between the union, the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Communities to provide clarity on the situation.
According to GTU President Mark Lyte, that meeting occurred around 1 pm yesterday where the REO indicated that only one month’s salary would be withheld, as compared to the three months that was being circulated.
“He [Morrison] indicated that he only said that June month will be withheld and he couldn’t produce the document. So the union was happy that he was saying that it is one month. On the other hand, we want to see the document that gave him that authority,” Lyte said.
Morrison has since promised to supply the document that shows there is a regulation to withhold teachers’ salaries.
“All we are hearing is that there is a law or rule but nobody can produce a document. I have never seen it and I am asking them to produce it. If there is a law we have to abide by it but we don’t know anything about that,” Lyte added.
He explained that the union is going to give the REO until the middle of next week to produce the document.
“If he doesn’t [produce it] then he can’t enforce anything. If there is a rule or law pertaining to the public servants then we can’t break the rule. I have never seen it as the President of the GTU and I have never heard of anybody else seeing it,” he said.
Lyte said the union will continue to take industrial action if no documentation is provided.
“You can’t have people working and don’t want to pay them,” he said, while pointing out the possibility that teachers will refuse to mark the National Assessment Examinations for Grade Four and Grade Nine as well as end-of-term tests, if the REO’s enforcement continues without provision of the relevant documents backing his claim.
While a lot of teachers are not expected to be affected, Lyte explained that even if it were one teacher then it is a problem for all of the teachers. “The number is not the issue. It’s the principle…withholding the teachers’ salaries. Those teachers have mortgages and bills and children to maintain, even if they go overseas,” he said.
Asked whether he was aware that teachers would apply for leave and not return, but were still being paid, Lyte said he was not. He explained that sometimes teachers would go on leave and would return days over their allotted return time, due to circumstances, which might be what the REO was referring to.