Gov’t to re-engage teachers’ union on wages

The Government and the Guyana Teachers’ Union (GTU) will on Thursday resume talks following a response by Cabinet to recommendations for the salaries and conditions of service for teachers, Minister of State Joseph Harmon disclosed yesterday.

Addressing a post-Cabinet press briefing at the Ministry of the Presidency, Harmon said that at last Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting, Education Minister Nicolette Henry presented the report of the joint High Level Task Force, which comprised representatives of both the government and the union.

He reminded that the task force was appointed to generate the proposals for a multi-year agreement in relation to the salaries and conditions of service for teachers.

Cabinet, he informed, deliberated on the report, gave its responses to the recommendations and directed that the union be re-engaged. Harmon disclosed that he was advised by the Education Minister that re-engagement will be done on Thursday.

Harmon was later asked to clarify the reasoning behind the re-engagement and to identify some of the issues that would be on the agenda for discussion.

He reminded that the recommendations required a response.

Government at the level of Cabinet, he said, has prepared that response and it is “the government’s response which will be given to the union by the minister and then there will be further discussions.”

Harmon on July 5th had said amidst continuing protests by teachers that the task force’s report contained “some very serious financial implications.”

This newspaper was previously informed that the task force’s report includes a calculation of the cost to government of all the Task Force’s recommendations. “There are grave concerns about the affordability of the proposals, which could cost in excess of $4 billion for the teaching service and $10 billion if extended to the rest of the public sector,” one source had explained.

This newspaper was also told that the issue of contention is the Task Force’s recommendation that government consider granting GTU’s request for a 40% increase on 2015 salaries.

The recommendations, which were seen by Stabroek News, propose that the 40% increase serve as a base and a 5% incremental increase for each remaining year of the agreement.

This recommendation represents a compromise from the union, which originally requested a 40% increase in 2016, a 45% increase in 2017, 50% in 2018, 50% in 2019 and 50% in 2020.

In addition to the salary increases, the report recommends a Risk Allowance of $5,000 per month to compensate teachers for operating under poor working conditions, an increase from a $1,000 to $10,000 Monthly Allowance to Teachers who teach in the Special Schools, and a 100% increase on the annual Clothing Allowance from $8,000 to $16,000, among other things.

The task force was set up last November after negotiations between the government and the GTU broke down.

The negotiations on the 2015 agreement began in January, 2016 but broke down last year after 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 President David Granger asked to meet the union and assured that the collective bargaining process would be pursued. The union delegation was later assured by Granger that Henry was premature in her declaration. It was also told that despite the ministry being in receipt of the union’s proposal since 2015, the only issue taken to Cabinet in relation to teachers was a request to have the de-bunching payments agreed to in 2006 paid out. This request was taken by former Minister of Education Dr. Rupert Roopnaraine.

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