Teachers set to resume wage talks with gov’t today

Mars: `We will wait to see what that government has to offer through the Minister of Education and then we can say how we will react. So Thursday when the meeting is going on we will be at 26 Brickdam showing our support for the union executive’

The Guyana Teachers’ Union (GTU) has been invited back to the negotiating table today by the government in a move some members have described as “unfair” and “disrespectful.”

“We have a heavy feeling because we don’t believe that they have anything good to offer us,” one Branch leader who did not wish to be identified told Stabroek News on Tuesday evening.

“It’s not fair that after years of negotiation we are still negotiating but we will go and we will listen,” the leader added.

Executive member of the South Georgetown Branch, Kirwyn Mars, is a bit more hopeful. He told Stabroek News that while his branch doesn’t feel good about being re-invited to the negotiation table they are “hopeful for a good offer”

“We will wait to see what that government has to offer through the Minister of Education and then we can say how we will react. So Thursday when the meeting is going on we will be at 26 Brickdam showing our support for the union executive,” Mars explained.

On Monday Minister of State Joseph Harmon indicated that the union and the Ministry of Education will today resume talks following a response by Cabinet to recommendations for the salaries and conditions of service. Addressing a post-Cabinet press briefing at the Ministry of the Presidency, Harmon said that at last week 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. It is unclear why it took Henry so long to present the report to Cabinet.

Stabroek News reached out to General Secretary of the union Coretta McDonald as well as President Mark Lyte on Tuesday for a comment on the matter but they could not be reached.

McDonald had however told Stabroek News in July that at any point government was and still is free to offer a counter proposal that is sustainable.

“If there is a recommendation and you cannot afford to implement it, then you should have called us back to the table and said this is what we can afford. Tell us what you have to offer don’t let it take teachers protesting for you to give us any feedback and then this lukewarm feedback,” she said in response to a claim by Harmon that the proposals from the joint task force contained “some very serious financial implications.”

The report includes a calculation of the cost to government of all the Task Force’s recommendations with one source telling this newspaper that “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.”

Stabroek News understands that the issue of contention is the Task Force’s recommendation that government consider granting the 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 by 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.

Sources close to the issue have told Stabroek News that despite the presence of Finance Secretary Hector Butts on the Task Force, the long-term financial implications of the requested increases and other financial benefits appear not to have been considered. 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 annual Clothing Allowance from $8,000 to $16,000, among other things.

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