Teachers see elections voting strength as leverage for wages deal

Teachers are counting on their strength as a voting bloc in upcoming local government elections to convince the governing coalition that it must sign an acceptable wages and salary agreement with the union before the beginning of the new school year.

Despite the establishment by the APNU+AFC government of a high-profile bipartisan task force and a commitment that by December last year there would be a decision on salaries for teachers, six months have elapsed and the government is still to clearly indicate the way forward.

Coretta McDonald, General Secretary of the Guyana Teachers Union (GTU), told Stabroek News last week that even as teachers become impatient they have repeatedly told the union that with elections right around the corner “Government would not want to look bad so they’ll do something good for teachers.”

They have reminded us that 2020 is not so far away and the local government elections is this year, she explained noting that teachers are prepared to wait only as long as the new school year.

“Some are hesitant to even wait that long but most are willing to wait and see,” she said.

According to McDonald the union has received no feedback since President David Granger’s May Day announcement that the agreement is with the Minister of Finance.  On May Day when he visited their headquarters Granger was confronted with calls from teachers for the deal to be signed.  “Sign the agreement now! Sign the agreement now!” was the demand that met the President.

“The President said that the Ministry of Finance is examining the document to determine whether they will be able to pay teachers based on its terms and our President [Mark Lyte] has asked teachers to give them that time,” McDonald explained.

Asked if Finance Secretary Hector Butts, who sat on the task force  which crafted the agreement, did not perform this function, McDonald said that the committee did not go into all the details.

“They are now looking at the number of teachers at each level of the Teaching Service and calculating how much it would cost to give specific increases at each level. The committee didn’t do that,” McDonald explained.

She further posited that government intends to use the agreement finally reached with the GTU as a model for its negotiations with other unions specifically the Guyana Public Service Union and therefore is taking time to understand its possible implications in the wider public service.

Under the “Proposed memorandum of agreement … 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 had sought 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 to 2015 agreement on December 31st, 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.

Negotiations between the union and the ministry on the 2015 agreement began in January, 2016 but broke down last year after Education Minister Nicolette Henry told the union that government could only offer wage increases in keeping with those offered to public servants. In response to Henry’s statement, the GTU delegation walked out of the meeting and called on teachers to remain at home for two days.

The strike action was, however, put on hold after Granger asked to meet the union and assured that the collective bargaining process would be pursued via the task force.

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