The Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC) yesterday called for national support for teachers in their battle for better wages. The teachers are set to go on strike today.
The umbrella union body called on the people of Guyana, civil society and the business community to empathise with the teachers in their moment of need.
“The struggle of the teachers for a living wage and the importance of sustaining themselves to perform require having their needs met and these can only be addressed at the negotiation table”, the TUC said. It noted that teachers are seeking an agreement with the government after the last four-year agreement signed with the PPP/C Government expired in 2015.
It said that in 2016 the Guyana Teachers’ Union (GTU) would have taken industrial action after the APNU+AFC Government failed to constructively engage them for an Agreement.
“Strike action was averted when Minister of State Joe Harmon gave the Union the assurance Government will address the teachers’ concerns. In 2017, after a failed process to arrive at an agreement, the Union once again said its members will proceed on strike action to bring about resolution. The action was averted because of President David Granger’s intervention where he established a Task Force to address the Union’s proposals. That Task Force completed its work earlier this year and submitted its Report to the Government which was deliberated at Cabinet…to date a stalemate (i.e. standoff) exists”, the TUC pointed out.
It said that the Union’s concerns are the non-response by the Government to the Task Force’s Report, the slothful approach in realising recommendations in the Report, and the threat by Government to employ substitutes should teachers proceed on strike rather than address a grievance which has subsisted for the past three years. The TUC said that these concerns are today resulting in strike action consistent with the Collective Labour Agreement and Article 147 (2) of the Guyana Constitution.
“It appears there is no genuine effort to bring relief to the teachers. The job of a teacher is not easy, and it is important to ensure there is learning in an environment where our children benefit. Whereas many have migrated to other societies where they consider their services are more valued and others have (exited) to other professions, those who remain under the present condition are due to the love for the profession and commitment to moulding the minds of our children”, the GUC said.
Noting that teachers also act as parent, mentor, custodian, counselor, provider (meals, school supplies, etc.) and a shoulder to cry on even as they have to meet their families’ psychosocial and economic needs, the GTUC called on society to “give full support to the teachers and their union- moral, spiritual or otherwise, cash or kind, as they navigate this period of their lives. A nation’s well-being is dependent on every generation shouldering its responsibility to nurture future generations in ensuring development and continuity of society and this is the role of the teacher”. The GTUC said that failure to arrive at resolution could result in schoolchildren suffering.
“We owe it to our children to enjoy a good environment of education. Where the teachers are happy they will be more productive. It is our nation’s children that are at risk when the education system is adversely affected. When our children suffer we suffer, the community suffer, and the nation suffers.
“GTUC calls on the Government to come to the bargaining table in good faith and address the teachers’ grievance. Three years is a long time”, the union body said.
Ahead of planned strike action, the executive of the GTU on Friday 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 with 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 on Friday, 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.
On Saturday, the Department of Public Information (DPI) reported that Minister of Education Nicolette Henry visited several secondary schools where rehabilitation works are being conducted.
The schools visited were, Tucville Secondary, Cummings Lodge Secondary, St. Joseph High and the Special Education Needs Diagnostic and Assimilation Centre located in the compound of the Cyril Potter College of Education.
According to DPI, Henry said that she was satisfied with what she saw regarding the progress and the quality of work being done to ensure that the school environment is suitable for students and teachers.
Henry said that similar visits will be conducted at other educational institutions in Georgetown and schools in the outlying regions will be visited by Regional Education Officers.
During the visit, DPI said that the minister was also informed that teachers were visiting the schools to ensure that everything is in place and set for September.