Neither the Ministry of Education (MOE) nor the Department of Labour has responded to the declared intention of the Guyana Teachers’ Union (GTU) to engage in strike action but the union is already advising its members to “hold the line”.
In a letter addressed to the Head teachers and Staff of schools across Guyana, union president Mark Lyte has directed that head teachers must take school keys to the respective Education Departments from Friday August 21, 2018 to facilitate the complete withdrawal of services from August 27.
Teachers have also been directed not report for work from the commencement of Pre-Term Activities until further notice; to follow closely releases from the Union’s Executives as the action goes forward and not listen to threats which will come from high offices.
“You have a right to strike as an employee,” Lyte stressed before imploring teachers throughout the length and breadth of Guyana to support this justified action taken by the union to ensure that an agreement is reached between the MOE and GTU.
Lyte explained in the letter that on the insistence of its members the GTU has called for Strike Action due to failed talks between the MOE and GTU.
“The Union views the Counterproposal tabled by MOE as an insult to the integrity of all teachers in Guyana. We believe that enough patience was exhibited by the Union to allow MOE to arrive at a satisfactory proposal,” he said adding that strike action will officially commence on 27th August 2018 and will continue until further notice.
GTU has therefore called on all teachers to join in this justified action since their rights are being infringed by their employer.
“This decision is supported not only by General Council, but our private opinion poll among teachers and civic minded persons across Guyana which indicates that teachers nationwide fully support this action,” he stated.
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.
Documentation provided by Lyte 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.
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 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.