After being told to prepare for strike action over wages and salaries, teachers were yesterday asked to stand down “for now” as their union is set to engage in discussions on Monday with President David Granger and Minister of Finance Winston Jordan.
After government moved yesterday to avert the planned countrywide strike, the Guyana Teachers’ Union (GTU) yesterday warned that it was expecting a serious reply to its salary proposal, which has been with the administration since December, 2015.
On Thursday, the union directed its members to strike next Thursday and Friday.
After a five-minute meeting with Minister of Education Nicolette Henry that he said “bore no fruit” since the minister “had nothing positive to say” about the union Multi-Year Proposal, union president Mark Lyte dispatched a letter to all schools and various Ministries indicating teachers would not be going out to work from Thursday, November 2 to Friday, November 3, 2017.
Lyte has now indicated that the strike action is “technically on pause so as not to prejudice discussion with the president scheduled to take place on Monday.”
The decision to have the discussion was made yesterday at a meeting between the union’s executive and Minister of State Joseph Harmon to discuss the union’s concerns about the lack of progress with regard to negotiations of salary increases and other non-salary benefits for its members.
The Ministry of Social Protection’s Department of Labour had also requested a meeting on Monday but the union has indicated that it will not be responding to that summons.
The intervention of the two ministries signals the grave concern that has arisen over the planned strike.
In a joint statement yesterday, the union and Ministry of the Presidency indicated that “the President was very concerned about the reports regarding the outcome of the meeting between the Union and the Ministry of Education and had signaled his willingness to meet with the Union on Monday October 30, 2017 at 11:00 a.m. to discuss all matters of concern to the Union.” Teachers will learn of the outcome by the end of the school day.
Speaking about the expectations of Monday’s meeting General Secretary Coretta McDonald said that the union team is “optimistic that our talks on Monday will bear fruit.”
Lyte, however, could not give any assurances, while noting that “with this government you have to wait and see.”
He added that despite being in possession of the union’s proposal since December, 2015, Minister Harmon called the executive only to state the president wants a meeting. “We have given them enough time to sort themselves out. If the government doesn’t come to the table with a response to our multi-year proposal, we really can’t take them seriously,” Lyte explained.
Yesterday’s statement also said that the Education Minister’s position that “government can only offer wage increases in keeping with those offered to public servants,” was not actually the government’s position.
According to the statement, Harmon told the union that this offered increase “was never intended to be the final position of the Administration but rather an interim arrangement.”
Harmon’s statement would raise questions about who advised Minister Henry to say what she said at the meeting on Thursday. Henry has been the source of several serious gaffes in the government.
General Secretary McDonald also told Stabroek News that Harmon claimed that “nothing was submitted [by the Ministry of Education] to Cabinet” about the proposal first made on December 17, 2015.
This statement, McDonald noted, has made the union question whether the Ministry of Education is a genuine partners.
“The Ministry kept saying that they were waiting on guidance from Minister of Finance Winston Jordan, Cabinet Secretary [Joseph Harmon] and Permanent Secretary of Ministry of Finance but now we hear that nothing was submitted to the Ministry of Finance,” McDonald said.
She stressed that having received the union’s proposal, the Ministry of Education should’ve been proactive in coming up with a proposal and submit it to the Ministry of Finance so that it could make a counter offer.
McDonald also responded to those who have said that the union’s proposal was too high to be taken seriously. “When you submit a proposal, you start with a higher number and then there is a counter proposal and you work to meet in the middle,” McDonald explained, before adding that since government has had the proposal for almost two years, the union will be going to Monday’s meeting expecting a comprehensive counter proposal.
Meanwhile, McDonald has labelled as “malicious and wicked” a statement originating from the Ministry of Education which singled out the actions of Lyte at Thursday’s meeting with the minister.
According to that statement, Lyte stood up to truncate the meeting while “all other members of the union remained seated including the General Secretary of the union.”
It continued by claiming that Mc Donald suggested that Lyte sign the non-financial aspect of the agreement but those pleas were not heeded.
The General Secretary was adamant that this never happened. She noted that she was late for the meeting and had been present for no more than a minute before the President stood to leave.
“I said nothing at that meeting and anyone who knows me knows I would never disagree publicly with my President or act in a manner contrary to teachers’ interest. It [the statement] is a blatant attempt to cause discord within the ranks of the union. We will be asking for a retraction and an apology,” McDonald said.
GTU’s proposed 2016 to 2020 agreement for the terms and conditions of employment for teachers and teacher educators was submitted to the Permanent Secretary Delma Nedd on December 17, 2015. Under the proposal, the union is seeking a 40% increase in 2016, a 45% increase in 2017, 50% in 2018, 50% in 2019 and 50% in 2020.
Government recently announced unilaterally imposed hikes in public service wages and salaries. Last week, Harmon announced at a post-Cabinet press briefing that government had made its final offer to the Guyana Public Service Union.
This offer increases the monthly minimum wage from $55,555 to $60,000. Additionally, those earning between $55,555 and $99,999 will receive an 8 % increase; those earning between $100,000 and $299,999 will receive a 6% increase; those earning between $300,000 and $499,999 will receive a 5 % increase; those earning between $500,000 and $699,999 will receive a 4% increase; those earning between $700,000 and $799,000 will receive a 2 % increase; and those earning between $800,000 and $1 million will receive a 0.5% increase. The increases are all retroactive to January.
It is these increases which teachers have also been offered.
The impasse with the GTU will test whether the process of free collective bargaining will be permitted by the government. For the last two years, despite having promised free collective bargaining, the government imposed wage increases on public servants.
Like in other wage disputes, critics of the government’s recent offer to the public servants have pointed to the 50% salary hike which senior government ministers were granted just months into office in 2015.