Following a second intervention by President David Granger, the Guyana Teachers’ Union (GTU) is considering whether to abandon the arbitration process and accept a new offer for wage increases from the Ministry of Education (MoE), including a 10% hike for 2016 and an 8% hike for the current year.
Almost one year after he first intervened in the negotiations between the GTU and the MoE, Granger yesterday convened a meeting between the two parties at State House during which they reached “common ground.”
“We have reached a broad area in which, I would say, that there is common ground. I don’t want to call it an agreement but we have reached common ground and I think the people of Guyana could look forward to an amicable resolution within days. It is a forward-looking agreement,” the President said in an interview with the Ministry of the Presidency’s Press and Publicity Unit.
Granger further assured teachers that they are not being ignored. He emphasised that they were coming to the “end of the road,” while noting that an agreement on teachers’ salary and non-salary benefits is likely to be reached by the end of this week.
“We have had some hiccups but we now seem to be coming to the end of the road. There seems to be wide areas of what I would say, common acceptance of what needs to be done…we, of course, expect that the Teachers’ Union consult with its members and the Teachers’ Union expects that we, the government, consult with the Ministry of Finance,” the Head-of-State explained.
GTU General Secretary Coretta McDonald, speaking with reporters following the one-hour meeting, expressed similar optimism.
She noted that “some proposals [were] thrown on the table” in relation to salary increases and debunching but would not share any details as to the nature of the offer beyond explaining that the union will signal its acceptance or refusal at a meeting scheduled for tomorrow.
“The offers are there. We still have to work
numbers into the offers that have been placed on the table,” she said. After today’s Cabinet meeting, the union expects to be provided with the relevant figures, she added.
Asked by Stabroek News if she felt confident that the President’s intervention will yield better results this time, McDonald said yes.
“The situation at this time is different. I think both sides have looked at what each other is offering. We are on the road…mutual respect was shown [at this meeting] which was one of the issues that was lacking or one of the main ingredients that was lacking, and that is now on the table again and with that being on the table, I think we are heading in the right direction,” she clarified.
The GTU in a subsequent post on its Facebook page yesterday said Henry revealed a new offer of 10% for 2016 and 8% for 2018. She also indicated that an offer of $350 million to settle debunching for the period 2011 to 2018.
Additionally, it noted that teachers would be placed in scales as of January, 2019. “Payments for debunching and 2018 will be made in December while retroactive 2016 increase will be made in January 2019 if agreed,” the union noted, while soliciting the views of its membership ahead of an expected meeting tomorrow.
Initial responses saw members questioning the figure for 2017 and other years.
The union has been pursuing a multi-year agreement, although government has been inconsistent on this point.
Last October, President Granger, in an attempt to stave off strike action, set up a High Level Task Force which facilitated negotiations between the MoE and GTU. Alhough the task force included government representatives from all relevant ministries, including the Ministry of Finance, government rejected its report. The report had recommended that government offer teachers a 40% increase on 2015 salaries.
Minister of State Joseph Harmon had told reporters that the report had grave financial implications and a source explained to Stabroek News that if government granted the increase recommended by the task force, it would cost some $4 billion.
President Granger himself deemed the report “deficient” and said that it should not be regarded as a sound basis for proceeding because critical information was not supplied to the committee.
Instead, government offered teachers a ballpark figure of $700 million to facilitate an increase in salaries based on the current salary scale, as well as a ballpark figure of $200 million to facilitate a de-bunching exercise for teachers for the new 2018/2019 school year.
Teachers, in response, engaged in a nationwide strike at the start of the new school term. The strike, which lasted nine days, was called off after the dispute was referred to arbitration. However, the union threatened on Wednesday to restart the strike after government unilaterally appointed as chairman of the arbitration panel, academic Leyland Lucas.
Lucas was arbitrarily selected by Minister in the Ministry of Social Protection Keith Scott and rejected by the union who asked that he recuse himself.
The union had threatened that if within seven days, they and the MoE could not reach a consensus on a chair, then its members would return to the streets. The Ministry countered with a threat of legal action against teachers who engage in strike action.
Asked if Lucas had been removed as chair of the panel, McDonald noted that if the union were to accept government’s new offer, there would be no arbitration.
“Those are the fineries that we have to work out between today and Wednesday. Working them out will say to us whether we go [to] arbitration or we stick with the new offers on the table… If those offers are being bought into, then we will have all of those letters sent out there rescinded,” she explained
The union was invited to the meeting by Henry, who told reporters after the meeting that she believes teachers’ wishes will be met. “It’s a process which requires hard work and we will put in the hard work,” she noted, before adding that she intends to work in the best interest of teachers.
Asked if she prefers that there be arbitration or that the offer be accepted, Henry said “this is a bilateral process, there are procedures to be followed and I am guided by those.”