A strike by the Guyana Teachers’ Union (GTU) enters it eighth day today and there is still no word from the Ministry of Social Protection on the way forward for the resolution of the dispute.
GTU President Mark Lyte told Stabroek News last evening that this silence from government is making teachers even more incensed.
“They have made no communication with the union since last Thursday,” he said, adding that “teachers feel betrayed by a government they should be able to trust.”
The ministry has contended that the strike should be called off and conciliation talks pursued prior to any decision being made about arbitration.
“Each day there are new revelations and the fact that two days into the start of school there has been no attempt by the administration to bring matters to an end is getting teachers angrier because they are seeing that there is no care for teachers and children. Teachers are frustrated that government has forced them to leave their students unattended,” Lyte explained.
One such revelation is the announcement from President David Granger that government is not negotiating a multi-year agreement with the GTU.
On Friday, Granger told a press conference that “we have not embarked on multi-year negotiations. It is desirable but right now we are preoccupied with day-to-day issues. It is desirable to have a multi-year agreement but this is not the time.”
For teachers who spent more than two years believing that they were negotiating an agreement to cover salary and non-salary benefits over the period 2016 to 2020 this was a devastating blow.
According to Lyte the blow was two-fold since this position has still not been communicated to the union official.
“We heard the announcement at the press conference and we noticed that both Minister (in the Ministry of Social Protection Keith) Scott and Minister (of Education Nicolette) Henry were asked about it but we have received no official communication saying that to date. We were never told,” he explained.
Stabroek News asked the Ministry of Education at a Monday press conference if it had ever communicated to the union that it was not willing to negotiate a multi-year agreement. The acting Permanent Secretary responded “not as far as I’m aware.”
Her response further agitated GTU members who turned up at the Ministry’s Brickdam office yesterday to once against protest the current impasse.
The numbers were significantly lower than the hundreds which turned up on Monday in part, according to Lyte because yesterday was supposed to be a rest after Monday’s massive protest.
The union executives had moved to Linden where significant numbers of teachers participated in the strike action.
Lyte noted that yesterday’s numbers surpassed those from the day before in the mining town as well as Regions 3 and 4.
“More schools were closed in Georgetown, in Essequibo and in Region 3 today,” he said.
Reports reaching this newspaper indicated that schools in Paramakatoi were closed as were Abram Zuil Secondary, J.C Chandisingh Secondary, Anna Regina Multilateral, Charity Secondary and Charity Primary.
Former Minister of Education Priya Manickchand said on her Facebook page yesterday that in the absence of teachers, auxiliary staff including “dorm mothers” were called on to supervise students. The Ministry of Education has denied this claim.
Stabroek News visited South Georgetown and found that while indeed several schools were closed teachers had turned out in enough numbers to have normal sessions at others.
At Central High School, Carmel Secondary School, Dolphin Secondary School and North Ruimveldt Multilateral Secondary School the full or close to full complement of teachers had shown up to work and police officers were observed in the compounds.
Things were however different at Charlestown Secondary School as less than half of the teaching staff showed up to work yesterday. Classes were merged so the few teachers who were present would be able to properly oversee the large number of students and reports indicate that sections of the school had to be locked off.
“We have about half of our staff here, we have to join the classes so we can keep an eye on all of them (students). The top section of the building we had to lock off cause we have to keep them close. We haven’t seen any replacements as yet but we’re waiting”, said one teacher.
The teachers who spoke with Stabroek News indicated that a police officer had visited the school asking for the specific number of teachers who had turned out to work.
Asked to explain the reason for the presence of police officers at schools, Ministry Public Relations Officer Brushel Blackman said they were there to keep the peace and ensure that during the strike action “all and sundry” don’t attempt to go into the schools.
Meanwhile in in Berbice, Regional Chairman for Region 6, David Armogan expressed concern about the impact of the strike action on students in the region.
Armogan told Stabroek News, that based on his observation of schools across the region the “strike was very effective.”
“My own suspicion is that today (Tuesday) because of the few teachers that turn out yesterday (Monday) many parents would be inclined to keep their children home because of obvious reasons” he added noting that the contingency plan put in place by the Ministry appeared not to be working.
During his visit he said students were “on the tarmac and everywhere else” during what was supposed to be class hours.
“It was a big problem to supervise them too, and even the teachers that were there were very disturbed and very worried about the number of students the few of them that were there would have to supervise”, he stressed
Armogan has offered support to the striking teachers arguing that “the teachers have a legitimate issue”.
According to the Regional Chairman the grave issue is that the government allowed the negotiations to break down.
He noted that had the government attempted to reach the teachers on their end the strike action could have been averted.
“The government is taking a heavy hand and saying look this is all we have to offer and we are not prepare to negotiate further, in fact I was heartened when the president said he was looking around to cut certain aspects of the national budget to see how he can put forward another proposal to the union with an increased package”.
He stressed, if the government continues to hold to their position, the union will have no choice but to also hold to their position which will in turn drastically affect the country’s children.
“I don’t know how they will be able to catch up on the curriculum because the curriculum delivery is set up in such a way within this period of time you have to be able to teach all these areas, now when a week or two is passed it means that two weeks of lesson time would have been wasted”.
Meanwhile, the region’s teachers are expected to return to the streets throughout the county tomorrow to protest again.
As of yesterday majority of the teachers from the Canje Secondary School, Berbice High School, Rose Hall Primary School located in East Canje Berbice, JC Chandisingh Secondary School, Skeldon Line Path Secondary and Rose Hall Primary School on the Corentyne were all on strike. While the Cumberland Primary School, Kildonan Primary School and Cropper Primary School have seen attendance from all teachers.
(Thandeka Percival, Shamar Meusa and Bebi Oosman)