Teachers’ union formally advises ministry of strike

Mark Lyte

The Guyana Teacher’s Union (GTU) has officially informed the Ministry of Education of its intention to strike, starting on August 27th, over failed salaries and benefits talks.

Union President Mark Lyte confirmed to Stabroek News that the legally-required notice was delivered at approximately 1:30 pm yesterday though up to press time no one from the Ministry of Education would acknowledge receipt of the correspondence.

For six months the GTU sat as part of a High Level Task Force which at the behest of President David Granger addressed negotiations on teachers’ pay and conditions but after the task force agreed with the majority of the union’s requests, government appears to have completely thrown out their report and on Thursday refused to grant the union most of what it was seeking. In response, the union members directed the executive to begin industrial action from the pre-term.

Teachers from across the country indicated that a complete withdrawal of services for the period August 27th to September 7th should be communicated to the Ministry, unless there is a favourable response to both salary and non-salary requests.

Lyte on Thursday signalled to teachers and the media that after spending so much time trying to find middle ground with government, he felt personally hurt that the Ministry of Finance sought to have its own internal task force review the work of the High Level Task Force, which was set up on October 30th last year.

“All we did [at the meeting] was hear nothing…even after we worked so hard to avoid industrial action, bending over backwards, we got nothing,” Lyte lamented.

Documentation provided by Lyte to the teachers and the Ministry show that in deciding to offer a ballpark figure of $700 million to facilitate an increase in salaries for all teachers based on the current salary scale, the government ignored that a 40% increase on 2015 salaries had been hammered out last year by the Task Force.

The union had initially requested a 40% increase in 2016, a 45% increase in 2017, 50% in 2018, 50% in 2019 and 50% in 2020, but compromised during negotiations and agreed to accept a 40% increase to serve as a base from 2016, with a 5% incremental increase for each remaining year of the agreement.

Though this and other measures agreed on by the Task Force were not reflected in government’s offer, Senior Public Relations Officer of the Ministry of Education Brushell Blackman maintained yesterday that it was the task force’s report which was examined at Thursday’s meeting.

According to the Task Force’s Terms of Reference, among other things, it was empowered to make recommendations to Cabinet after examining the Union’s Multi-Year draft agreement for 2016 to 2020 in its entirety; consider each proposal made and make recommendations as deemed necessary; review the aspects of the Draft Agreement that have been accepted to date by the Ministry of Education; and identify outstanding issues and arriving at agreed terms.

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. The Task Force had, however, agreed to honour these requests yet the union was told on Thursday 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 Teacher’s 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.

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