Teachers set to reject gov’t wage offer

President David Granger with Ministry of Education officials (at left) during the meeting with executive members of the Guyana Teachers’ Union at State House during a meeting on Monday morning. (Ministry of the Presidency photo)

Teachers are not in favour of government’s new wage offer of 10 per cent for 2016 and eight percent for 2018 and the Guyana Teachers’ Union (GTU) will likely refuse the offer when representatives meet with the Ministry of Education (MoE) today, according to General Secretary Coretta McDonald.  

“So far, our members are totally not accepting the new offer that has been placed on the table. When we meet (today), we will have to inform the Ministry of Education about the responses we have had today, yesterday and the day before, and they will have to rethink their position. If not, then we will have to go to arbitration,” McDonald told Stabroek News yesterday.

She said that the GTU is looking forward to having a fruitful meeting and is hoping that with a new offer, the two parties can iron out some of “the itchy issues.” These include rescinding the unilateral appointment of the chairman of the arbitration panel and of a letter that was sent by the MoE Secretariat warning teachers of consequences should they take industrial action.

“We have to iron out those issues before we can move on with the process. We still have arbitration on the table. So if you are going to come with an offer, it has to be something good,” she asserted.

Meanwhile, she maintained that the GTU does not recognise the appointment of Professor Leyland Lucas as chairman of the arbitration panel. Minister with responsibility for Labour, Keith Scott, she said, “has no authority to appoint any arbitrator when it comes to voluntary arbitration. The minister needs to check what the law is saying about that.”

The GTU had submitted the names of former Minister of Foreign Affairs Rashleigh Jackson, former Minister of Education Dr Jeffery Thomas, and Dr Aubrey Armstrong as its nominees for the arbitration panel.“We are hoping that one of our nominees will be selected if we have to get to that point,” McDonald said.         

Left out           

Asked about why no offer was made for 2017, McDonald said she did not know if it was deliberately left out and the GTU has questioned the omission. Education Minister Nicolette Henry, she said, “indicated that she had the impression that the GTU had recognised and agreed that 2017 was a done deal.”

The interim payout across the board for public servants, she said, was from eight percent downwards based on the salaries’ scale.

“I don’t understand how the minister can assume that could be a done deal when issues such as clothing allowance, allowances for additional qualifications and all of those things were not had in 2017. Those are some of the issues we still have to deal with (today),” she declared.

On a report in the October, 2018 Guyana Review, which quoted President David Granger as saying that teachers have had a 50 per cent increase in salaries since 2015, McDonald said, “In 2015, GTU had a standing agreement with the previous administration. So there was nothing happening in 2015. We had interim payments in 2016 and in 2017. Nothing has happened in 2018.”

On the proposed multi-year agreement covering 2016 to 2020, she said the indications are that government is negotiating a three-year agreement covering 2016, 2017 and 2018, and not a five-year agreement.

“We are somewhat disappointed that we are not going to have a five-year agreement,” the GTU executive said.

Getting tired

Negotiations take up a lot of time, she added, and very often teachers are not paid in the year negotiations take place. When it comes to benefits for other working conditions particularly, she said, teachers cannot look forward to accessing those benefits.

Many teachers have been retiring, and many of them could not access duty-free concessions for vehicles after giving 29, 30 and 33 years of dedicated service to this nation because of retirement. “By all means, they should be receiving those benefits,” McDonald declared.

Teachers with additional degrees, in addition to a degree in Education, she said, “are still not being paid for the additional qualifications because there is no agreement in place.” There is a fixed salary for teachers holding a degree in Education. She added that the upgrade process is prolonged.

“You might very well have your degree in Education but because there is no system that is inked, then the upgrade for TSC (the Teaching Service Commission) to complete the process for upgrade, that is delayed too,” the GTU General Secretary said.

Regarding Monday’s meeting with President Granger, McDonald said that the GTU was “quite pleased” that he intervened.

“It is rather coincidental that the President would have intervened last year about this time,” she observed, recalling that at about the same time last year, he intervened and set up a high level task force to make recommendations on the issue after teachers had threatened strike action. The task force has since recommended a 40 per cent increase for 2016 with five percent for the remaining four years. However, government has rejected the report.

The GTU was also a bit disappointed, McDonald said, that at the meeting with Granger, there was no representative of the Ministry of Finance as this delayed the entire process.

Talking in the absence of those who crunch the numbers, takes up time when those negotiating have to go back to consult and then return, she said. The GTU official does not know whether the absence of a Ministry of Finance representative was a delaying tactic. 

However, she said, “Teachers are getting tired of what is happening. They want to see the curtains come down on this whole drama.”

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