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Minister of Education summons Teachers’ Union to meeting as strike looms

FLASH BACK: President David Granger being escorted in the Guyana Teachers’ Union compound, Woolford Avenue, Georgetown.

Minister of Education, Ms. Nicolette Henry has summoned the Guyana Teachers’ Union (GTU) to another meeting in an effort to avert strike action by thousands of public school teachers over government’s failure to give into their demands for increased salaries.

“I’m looking at a meeting this week because it’s both urgent and important and therefore we need to ensure that we continue to address and resolve these issues in the most effective way and with also some amount of expediency,” Henry was quoted as saying in a statement issued by the Ministry of the Presidency Tuesday night.

A GTU official confirmed that the Minister on Tuesday dispatched an invitation for the two sides to meet on Thursday. The union’s executive is expected to decide on Wednesday whether they would meet with Henry and her delegation. Efforts to return to the bargaining table followed Friday’s official notification by the union that teachers would be called out on an indefinite strike from August 27, 2018.

Government has offered to pay salary increases from GY$700 million for 2018, but the union wants a 40 percent pay hike retroactive to 2016 as part of a multi-year agreement. The union has already denied agreeing that the ministry would hire a specialist to calculate the salary increases.

Henry hopes to “appeal” to the teachers that government was doing its best and could only pay what the National Treasury could afford. With the Union calling for a countrywide strike, the Minister noted that the David Granger- led administration is a pro-working class government and therefore believes that engagements for mutual satisfaction must be achieved.  She also made it clear that remunerations will be given in keeping with what can be afforded at this time.  “We, first and foremost believe that we need to engage, that we need to make teachers aware of where we are, what the government is doing and appeal to them that we are doing the best we can in the circumstances. We will ensure that the teachers are given increases in keeping, of course, with what we can afford,” she said

In the Ministry of the Presidency statement, the Minister of Education said government was prepared to pay salary increases after paying out GY$200 million in debunching and then calculating how to divide the GY$700 million.

She explained that government had expected that once the debunching had been resolved, the new salary scales would have been fixed and then the increased salaries would have been paid. “Once the debunching issue is addressed and teachers in this instance can be categorised and put into scales, then it will give you an opportunity to give what is allocated to salary increases in the respective categories… There is certainly nothing sinister or there is certainly no ulterior motive in awarding the ball park figure, because that did came up in the discussion,” she said.

At the end of a nine-month long pay dispute, Henry and the two labour ministers- Amna Ally and Keith Scott-last week met with GTU officials to discuss government’s latest counter-proposals.

The Education Minister noted that government, over the past three years, has invested heavily in improving the education system to create a more conducive environment for teaching. She said despite the absence of a Multi-year Agreement, the government provided salary increases in 2016 and 2017 for teachers in accordance with what was given to public servants.

“In order to improve the conditions of teachers, we have taken several decisions. One is that we have offered to provide grants to schools that have Science labs. There is the National Endowment for Science and Technology (NEST) programme, which is managed by the Ministry of the Presidency and that is to ensure that the environment the beneficiaries operate in are the best of what we can offer. In addition to that, we have increased stipends for teachers who are in training at the Cyril Potter College of Education by more than 50 percent. In addition to that, the Remote Area Incentive (RAI) for teachers who work in hinterland has seen an 80 percent increase in 2018,” she said

Further to that, Minister Henry said that in an effort to make work less onerous and demanding on teachers, the Ministry has been exploring support mechanisms particularly through Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and by strengthening the human resource capacity.

“Let me say that we recruited monitors and coordinators to assist teachers in the classroom and so all of those things come with a cost but it’s towards the development of the best interest of the people. I understand that teachers, like many other categories, feel that they should be given an increase and it is my intention to ensure that we give them an increase in keeping with what we can afford, in the best interest of the teachers and the people of this country. I would also like to point out that notwithstanding my responsibilities as Minister of Education, I believe that whenever we take a decision as Government we have to look at the best interest of all of our people. I would want to ensure that what we offer to teachers is what we can afford but also what we’re going to offer to other categories will be in keeping with the prevailing financial resources and it must operate within that context,” Minister Henry said.

General Secretary of the Guyana Trades Union Congress, Lincoln Lewis has lamented at the way the teachers are being treated to broken promises by the APNU+AFC coalition-led government, despite pre-May 2015 general election campaign promises.