Having given more than a handful of years as a teacher in the local environment, I think I am in a fair position to offer a few thoughts on the current threatening wage situation. Intuition tells me that they may not be well-received, and could very well lead to a call for stoning the messenger. Regardless, I reach for what is reasonable, and what I see as pragmatic; in other words, what the territory can bear.
The teaching profession is hurting in the pocket. So am I; and my circumstances are not ordinary, like the rest of a whole host of sister professions to that of teachers. Teachers could use a nice juicy carrot enriched at a sweetly healthy monetary percentage; the higher the better. But it is not 40%. I have browsed the table(s) of income and real-life, daily expenses, once again burnished and resurrected in the media. This has been done before in different situations, to make a strong case for a robust increase in teachers’ pay. Those figures are facts and are undeniable; as they are neither exorbitant nor exaggerated. They are definitely not padded for cheap negotiating purposes. This is the way that the dollar delivers in Guyana; it has been so for a long time, and on a relentlessly descending path. Two hundred to one (or whatever it may be) do not buy the same two hundred dollars’ worth of goods and services as, say, five years ago.
Having said this much, I say again: it is not 40%. To be brutally candid: it is not 20% either. To repeat: the territory cannot bear this. The teachers’ union know this; the teachers themselves know so; and all those who stand in sympathy know similarly. Let me be clear: though I do not like that 40% number, it is deserving and due; it might even be eminently fair. But not now.
I encourage thinking along the following lines. I am a nurse, or a police officer, or a public servant; whichever one that I am (among others), I would be most interested in what is finalized in these talks, and just as delighted to learn that teaching brethren got 40%, or something close to that enchanting number. Because that number would function as the baseline for me and my profession, and from where all discussions start. Ditto for all those other groups and professions not identified here. Pensioners will be forced to trot out their walkers, and brandish their walking sticks. I shall not speak of potential inflationary pressures, or from where the dollars are to be sourced, or where it will end up. In terms of the latter, I will say this much, 200:1 (or 215:10) will not hold. Something is going to have to give on this; usually it is not the state. It goes without saying, that no one is interested at this time on any of those easily dismissible abstractions. For that is how they will appear in what is an increasingly acrimonious atmosphere.
To digress for a moment, there is some amusement at leading opposition figures publicly bracing the teachers’ positions in one form or another. I do not think that anybody attaches any spiritual or psychic significance to this political bunch hustling for friends any way they can be had. I could be wrong, but I am hard pressed to recall any instance during the reign of the now opposition when any group of workers, or any particular profession, received a pay hike that reached double-digit percentage. It is, indeed, warming to have political stalwarts of this caliber emerging from the recesses of the wood-ants nests to lend voice and muscle to the cause.
So, if it is neither 40% nor 20%, then what is it? What should it be? I think that, all circumstances considered, it is somewhat nearer to 10%; that should be both floor and ceiling, with annual increments of 5% for the next 2-3 years. Rather surprisingly, I do not hear the Education Ministry seizing the opportunity to tie anything to classroom performance, and attach related incentives. My bottom line is 10%. I firmly believe that this is reasonable, practical, and wise on the part of all sides. Now those who want to start throwing bricks can proceed to do so.