Leader of the Opposition Bharrat Jagdeo has accused the government of negotiating with the Guyana Teachers’ Union (GTU) in bad faith, thereby creating the conditions that led to a nationwide strike.
Jagdeo, who spoke with the media at his Queenstown, Georgetown office on Thursday prior to a deal being reached to end the strike and settle the dispute between the Education Ministry and the GTU by way of arbitration, said his party supported the teachers.
“This is not a political strike although they are trying to make it like that. Their (teachers) demands are legitimate. If they (government) cannot meet all of the demands, they need to engage. The teachers have been crying out for engagement. The parents should also support the teachers,” he said.
“We support the teachers and their industrial action because of the way they are treated and the whole country should. They (government) have not looked at the demands themselves. They argued for a big percentage in the first instance, but look at what they have asked in the remaining four years of the agreement. You will see that in no way the teachers’ request is unreasonable. They are waiting to be heard to get clear answers,” he added.
The teachers, he said, “have been callously misrepresented” by government and rather than sit and negotiate the administration has been confrontational.
The Education Minister Nicolette Henry’s attitude, he said, was “condescending, haughty and judgmental” as she said government’s offer was all it could give and that if the teachers insisted on a strike, then they would put alternative measures in place by recruiting other people to see to the children.
The minister responsible for labour, Keith Scott, Jagdeo added, saw the teachers “as uncaring and selfish.” Scott has since apologised for his comments.
Jagdeo expressed the hope that the GTU and government would have reached an agreement and teachers would return to their classrooms so that fears of thousands of parents would be allayed.
Stating that the teachers’ demands are legitimate as their multi-year agreement expired in 2015, and teachers thought they had made progress when President David Granger appointed a High Level Task Force to resolve the situation, Jagdeo said he found it strange that the president at his recent press conference said government and the GTU were not negotiating a multi-year agreement, rather only one dealing with 2018.
The task force discussed and made recommendations on a multi-year agreement, he said. He noted Granger’ comment that they were looking for additional resources to better the $700 million package offered to teachers
He said he was very disappointed that Granger would say months after the report was presented to him that government now has problems with the Task Force’s recommendations. The Task Force presented its recommendations to government in March.
“They put their senior people on the Task Force and now in September they discover that they have problems with the Task Force recommendations. We see this as negotiations in bad faith,” he added.
Jagdeo also took the Alliance For Change (AFC) to task for calling on teachers to bear with government while trying to pit the public servants against teachers by saying that if they are given the pay hike they are demanding, other categories of workers would also want the same.
He was critical of the AFC, which in a newspaper article said that on taking office there was not half enough money available to do what every Guyanese needed to be done. And yet, Jagdeo said, the government found the 50 percent increase in salaries for ministers. “Now their salaries have gone close to $1 million a month. Things were so bad they had to do that,” he noted.
While the AFC claimed that government has to repair the damage done under the 23 years of PPP/C rule, Jagdeo said that it was under the former administration that two multi-year agreements were reached with the teachers.