Ahead of planned strike action, the executive of the Guyana Teachers’ Union (GTU) yesterday chose to attend scheduled meetings with its members in Berbice instead of a conciliatory meeting hastily called by the Ministry of Social Protection.
The conciliatory meeting, scheduled for 2 pm at the ministry, was arranged at the request of the Ministry of Education after negotiations will the union on salaries and some benefits reached a standstill. It has since been rescheduled to next Tuesday, one day after the planned strike is scheduled to begin.
GTU president Mark Lyte told Stabroek News that the request to attend the meeting arrived at the union at 10 am yesterday, just four hours before the scheduled start time.
“We received the letter at 10 am and that, of course, was late notice since the meeting was scheduled for 2 pm and we had made a commitment to our members in Berbice to meet them [and] so we did. Earlier notice from the Ministry would’ve allowed us to reschedule one of these meetings but the notice was too late,” Lyte explained.
Chief Labour Officer (CLO) Charles Ogle, however, maintained that a letter had been dispatched to the union on Thursday afternoon and re-dispatched on Friday morning.
Though Ogle and a delegation from the Minister of Education met for approximately 20 minutes, the CLO explained that the union had already indicated via letter that it would not attend and therefore no matters were discussed. The Education Ministry delegation was led by Chief Education Officer Marcel Hutson.
Meanwhile, in Berbice the GTU executive announced that teachers would be holding picketing exercises throughout the country at strategic locations on Monday at 9 am.
In Region Six, the picketing exercise is expected to be held in front of the Department of Education in New Amsterdam.
The announcement of the action was met with applause from the teachers present at a meeting at the Albion Sports Complex yesterday.
During the meeting, Lyte gave a detailed explanation of the union’s proposals and what transpired at the meetings between GTU and government officials.
The explanation was welcomed by teachers, with one teacher noting that, “when you talk to people, they saying another thing; you brought clarity, now we fully understand the reasoning.”
Lyte encouraged the teachers gathered to stay united and to ignore persons who may not agree with them.
He also took time to ask the teachers whether or not they agreed with the union’s decision, at which point they responded “yes.”
Several teachers had questions about strike relief and were told that the GTU could not commit to making strike relief.
“We might provide some relief but not the full coverage that might have been lost because the union don’t have the full capacity to undertake across-the-board payment for teachers that will go on strike,” he explained, before adding that the strike would have to be a “sacrifice” from them.
The Berbice teachers who seemed ready to stand with the union also questioned whether teachers who have not yet gained permanent status would be fired by the Ministry of Education. However, assurance was given that temporary teachers who are supporting the strike would see the support from the union in such an event.
One head teacher told the meeting that she attempted to hand in her keys at the Department of Education for Region Six but was told that a meeting with parents was scheduled for Monday at the school and, therefore, it would not be accepting her keys.
Lyte, who has already handed in his school keys, told the head teacher to make a second attempt to hand in her keys to the Department. He also stressed that the teachers who choose not to hand in their keys would have “responsibilities for the schools.”
Teachers present also expressed their disappointment at the Education Minister for making remarks that suggested that persons would hired to fill their positions if they are to go on strike.
One teacher, who said she was hurt by the statement, noted, “She clearly doesn’t care for us.”
Also present at the meeting was Regional Education Officer Volika Jaikishun, who told Stabroek News that she was present to see what plans the teachers have. “These are my teachers and my schools, so I am here to see what is happening,” she said.
When asked, Jaikishun noted that Berbice has an estimated 1,500 teachers and up to yesterday she had only received the keys from one head teacher, Lyte.
In addition, GTU’s Regional Vice-President for Berbice Donnette D’Andrade noted that it is hypocritical for Member of Parliament Jermaine Figueira to call the union’s proposal exorbitant, since she claimed that he was a part of the “preparation, making or the coining of that proposal.”
Figueira had been reported as claiming that the union’s request for a 40% increase is unreasonable but D’Andrade maintained that since Figueira was involved in the crafting of the proposal, he cannot now criticise it.
“To sit where he is now to say to us what we are asking for is exorbitant clearly says to us that Mr. Figueira is a hypocrite,” she said before suggesting that the Member of Parliament does not care for the needs of the teachers, since he benefited from an increase in his pay from the government.
The GTU also held a meeting on the West Coast of Berbice that saw the support of over 200 teachers.