As teachers across Guyana prepare to strike, Minister of Education Nicolette Henry has said that the Guyana Teachers’ Union (GTU) will be invited back to the negotiation table before the end of the week.
“I’m looking at a meeting this week because it’s both urgent and important and therefore we need to ensure that we continue to address and resolve these issues in the most effective way and with also some amount of expediency,” a statement from the Minis-try of Presidency quoted Henry as saying yesterday.
She also indicated that any increases offered to teachers would be offered to all categories of government workers.
“I understand that teachers, like many other categories, feel that they should be given an increase and it is my intention to ensure that we give them an increase in keeping with what we can afford, in the best interest of the teachers and the people of this country…notwithstanding my responsibilities as Minister of Education, I believe that whenever we take a decision as Government we have to look at the best interest of all of our people. I would want to ensure that what we offer to teachers is what we can afford but also what we’re going to offer to other categories will be in keeping with the prevailing financial resources and it must operate within that context,” Henry was quoted as saying.
In the statement, the minister repeatedly referred to last Thursday’s meeting as the first meeting and argued that the actions of the GTU since then are not in keeping with the position reached. She claimed that the two sides “agreed in principle that we will meet subsequently to address the issues that were not resolved at that first meeting.”
The union, however, has been in negotiations with government since 2015, two years before Henry was appointed Minister of Education.
A meeting between Henry and GTU last year also resulted in a call for strike action but President David Granger intervened and set up a high-level task force which worked for five months to negotiate a consensus agreement. The report from that task force has not been referenced at all in any of the government releases since Thursday even though Minister of State Joseph Harmon had told reporters that government’s counter proposal would refer to its recommendations. It did not.
Further, the negotiating team led by Henry has attempted to ignore the agreement reached between GTU and the previous administration in 2011 for a de-bunching of the Teaching Salary (TS) Scale to see various teachers paid based on their experience.
According to last evening’s statement, government proposed a ballpark figure to facilitate de-bunching from 2018.
“In the case of de-bunching, we are looking at $200 million to address de-bunching for the year 2018. The Union suggested that they believe that it should be retroactive and therefore they were not in agreement with looking at just 2018. In addition to that, the issue of salary also, for which we had allocated the sum of $700 million, they felt that should also be retroactive [to 2016],” Henry is quoted as saying.
She defended this position by arguing that government proposed a ballpark figure because de-bunching would affect salary increases.
“We gave a figure on what is available in terms of financing to address the de-bunching issue. Once the de-bunching issue is addressed and teachers in this instance can be categorised and put into scales, then it will give you an opportunity to give what is allocated to salary increases in the respective categories…,” Henry is quoted as saying.
She added that “there is certainly nothing sinister nor is there an ulterior motive in awarding the ballpark figure…I just wanted to provide that clarity because I believe that teachers and the Guyanese people need to understand what was proposed and why it was proposed.”
The Education Minister also maintained that it was agreed that a consultant will be hired to determine how these monies are going to be allocated in the case of the teachers, regarding both de-bunching and salaries. The GTU has denied agreeing to this proposal.
Henry noted that aside from the GTU’s request for salary and non-salary benefits, government over the past three years has invested heavily in improving the education system to create a more conducive environment for teaching.
She stressed that in the absence of a Multi-Year Agreement, government provided salary increases in 2016 and 2017 for teachers in accordance with what was given to public servants.
These increases were offered arbitrarily while the government and union were still engaged in negotiations, with government indicating that they would have no impact on negotiations.
“In order to improve the conditions of teachers, we have taken several decisions. One is that we have offered to provide grants to schools that have science labs. There is the National Endowment for Science and Technology (NEST) programme, which is managed by the Ministry of the Presidency and that is to ensure that the environment the beneficiaries operate in are the best of what we can offer. In addition to that, we have increased stipends for teachers who are in training at the Cyril Potter College of Education by more than 50 percent. In addition to that, the Remote Area Incentive (RAI) for teachers who work in hinterland has seen an 80 percent increase in 2018,” Henry further stated.
She also said that in an effort to make work less onerous and demanding on teachers, the Ministry has been exploring support mechanisms particularly through Information and Communication Techno-logy (ICT) and by strengthening the human resource capacity.
“Let me say that we recruited monitors and coordinators to assist teachers in the classroom and so all of those things come with a cost but it’s towards the development of the best interest of the people,” Henry stressed.
Last Thursday, 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.
Documentation provided by GTU President Mark Lyte to the teachers showed 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.
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.
During this three-year period, teachers did not receive the annual clothing allowance nor did government implement the de-bunching programme that was agreed to. 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 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.