With government rejecting the majority of salary and non-salary measures in a multi-year agreement proposed by the Guyana Teachers’ Union (GTU), the new school year could begin with a strike by teachers.
“Let them know we will not be there when school opens,” Stacy Benjamin told the union’s central executive at an impromptu meeting that was called by union members following a failed attempt at negotiation between the GTU and a government delegation.
Her sentiment was echoed by nearly 100 teachers who had gathered at the union’s headquarters yesterday. Though the number was relatively small, the gathering saw representation from a large number of the union’s 53 branches, who informed the decision to begin industrial action in the pre-term, which begins on August 27th. The action, which will take the form of a complete withdrawal of service, will continue into the first week of the new school year.
Hours earlier, teachers, who came from East Berbice, Corentyne, Linden, Essequibo, Buxton, North, South and East Georgetown as well as Central East Bank and Region Nine, had spent hours outside the Ministry of Education’s Brickdam office waiting for results from their executive.
The teachers, who told Stabroek News that they were prepared to turn over school keys and shut the system down, had already been upset after Minister of Education Nicolette Henry took the opportunity to reprimand them for “poor performance” at the National Grade Six Assessment.
“How can you come out here and tell us that increases will be linked to performance? Well, we will tell you, we will perform when we are satisfied. Teachers in Guyana haven’t been satisfied for years so don’t come asking us for anything,” one teacher declared. She referenced the stellar performance of students in countries such as Singapore, South Korea and Finland, where teachers are regarded as engineers, before lamenting that in Guyana teachers are seen as “nothing.”
“So expect nothing from us,” the visibly frustrated woman said. She was unprepared to accept anything other than the best from a government which she said had already fed itself while public servants starved.
“As a mother, if my friend give me a box of food will I eat it alone? No, I will feed my children first then as the mother eat what is left back. What they did with that 50% is feeding themselves before their children. They should’ve fed us first before they even thought of feeding themselves,” she stressed, while making reference to the contentious 50% increase that government granted to ministers shortly after assuming office in 2015.
Her colleague noted that the minister would have been better served by telling the teachers what the government’s counterproposal was.
“Don’t come out to talk to us and tell us we’ll hear the proposal when the executive finish reading it. The executive does what we tell them to, so come to us and tell us what you have offered and we will tell the executive what to tell you,” she stressed, while adding that the minister failed to display the skills of a leader.
“Make a proposal. Be decisive. As HM, we have to be decisive every day and we ask no less of the Minister,” she stressed while a representative from the union’s North Georgetown branch declared that as a teacher he deserved a livable wage.
He would repeat this call later at the impromptu meeting after the union representatives left the ministry.
For three hours, a seven-member team from the union, led by President Mark Lyte, met with 10 government representatives, including Henry, Minister of Social Protection Amna Ally and Minister with responsibility for Labour Keith Scott, to discuss government’s response to the report from a joint task force set up by President David Granger last November. Despite government representation on the task force, the administration had recently signaled that the proposals outlined in the report had financial implications that cannot be met.
The government team refused the union’s request for a 40% increase on 2015 salaries and proposed instead to offer a ballpark figure of $700 million to facilitate an increase in salaries for all teachers based on the current salary scale. That 40% increase on 2015 salaries had been hammered out last year by a taskforce involving the government, the union and other stakeholders following an earlier impasse. It was widely believed that that package should have been automatically implemented by the government.
Government has further offered to employ a specialist to work with the union to decide on salary increases for teachers.
After initially proposing a 40% increase in 2016, a 45% increase in 2017, 50% in 2018, 50% in 2019 and 50% in 2020, the union had suggested a compromise of a 40% increase to serve as a base from 2016, with a 5% incremental increase for each remaining year of the agreement.
The last multi-year agreement, which was negotiated with the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) government, came to an end in 2015 and the union has been attempting since then to negotiate a new one for the period 2015 to 2020. In 2015, 2016 and 2017, government offered teachers the same increases as the rest of the public service.
Specifically in 2015, teachers’ received a 5% increase, plus $5,000 more monthly, with effect from July; in 2016, those earning less than $99,000 received a 6% increase, while in 2017 those earning less than $99,999 benefitted from an 8% increase, retroactive to January, 2017.
During this three-year period, teachers did not receive the annual clothing allowance nor did government implement the de-bunching programme agreed to in 2010.
Instead, the union was told yesterday that government will make available a ballpark figure of $200 million to facilitate a de-bunching exercise for teachers for the new school year of 2018/2019.
“The Guyana Teachers’ Union will submit their proposal for de-bunching in keeping with the sum allocated,” government proposed, while adding that the de-bunching exercise will be effective from the beginning of the new school year, September, 2018, rather than from September, 2011.
The union has refused to accept this counterproposal, stating that the amount allocated did not cater for the years signed and agreed to previously by the government and noting that the previous Permanent Secretary signed an agreement to honour the de- bunching payment from 2011.
Additionally, a request to increase the annual uniform allowance from $8,000 to 25,000 was rejected as was a request to increase the monthly remuneration for various higher level qualification.
For the last ten years, teachers who upskilled to a Certificate in Education have earned an extra $4,000 a month, those with a Diploma in Education have earned an extra $6,000, those with a Master’s Degree earn an extra $10,000, and those with a Doctoral Degree earn an extra $30,000.
Government has refused a request to increase the sum paid for a Certificate in Education to $7,000, a Diploma in Education to $10,000, Masters’ Degree to $25,000 and a Doctoral Degree to $35,000.
It has also refused to offer remuneration for a Management Certificate and a Special Needs Certificate. The union has requested an extra $6,000 and $ 10,000, respectively, for teachers holding these qualifications.
All other allowances were refused on the basis that all new allowances will have to be considered in line with the wider public service.
The wider public service represented by the Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU) has been similarly engaged in negotiation with government since 2015. Union President Patrick Yarde recently told the media that this negotiation has been largely one-sided.
Government has agreed to pay teachers their Whitley Council Allowance in June of the year of entitlement but has refused to offer this special allotment every three years; it will continue to be offered for every four years of service.
Meanwhile, the union had requested 200 duty-free concessions per year for vehicles up to 2,700 cc and ATV mountain bikes for headmasters/headmistresses and principals of Nursery, Primary and Secondary schools, and principals and deputy principals of technical institutions and training colleges, immediately upon appointment. The government has agreed to granting 100 duty-free concessions per year but the eligibility criteria has however been updated to reflect the union’s request that Senior Masters/Mistresses and Heads of Department of all schools and Lecturers of CPCE/Technical/Craft Institutions after 6 six years in the same position, after their appointment as such, be granted the said concessions.
A request for 50 scholarships per year, tenable at the University of Guyana, has been countered with an offer of 30 unspecified scholarships and an additional 20 scholarships to teachers to pursue science at the University of Guyana.
The government has also refused to agree to specified ratio of students to teachers, stating that the ratio of students to teacher will be subject to be availability of resources, such as number of classrooms, class sizes, space and number of teachers. The union had proposed that at the Nursery level no more than 15 students be taught by one teacher, no more than 20 at Grades 1 and 2 and no more than 25 from Grade 3 to 11. A ratio of 15:1 was suggested for Practical Instructional Centres.