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Ministry of Education preparing to activate emergency plan if teachers strike for increased salaries, allowances

Delegations from the Ministry of Education, Department of Labour and the Guyana Teachers Union meeting on Thursday at the Ministry of Education’s board room.

The Ministry of Education is contemplating hiring temporary teachers or worst case scenario ordering the closure of government-run schools if teachers strike to press government for a 40 percent salary hike as part of a multi-year agreement.

“Those are the technical issues related to education and I have asked my Chief Education Officer to ensure that we have all of the preliminary work done in the event we have to activate but we are not thinking that we may have to but you always have to be prepared,” she told reporters following a meeting with top officials of the Guyana Teachers Union (GTU) and the Labour Department of the Ministry of Social Protection.

While the negotiations were underway, President David Granger passed a group of protesting teachers who sought to gain his attention behind his heavily tinted car windows.

Henry said standard operating procedures provide for involvement of parent teachers’ associations, the hiring of temporary teachers or rotation of classes based on the number of teachers on the job. “It allows to ensure that there is coverage in terms of an adult at the school. It allows also based on the numbers and the extent of the strike for you to make certain determinations, whether you have to recruit teachers, you have to close schools if you don’t have anybody,” she added.

Teachers outside the Ministry of Education anxiously awaiting word from their union representatives who were Thursday afternoon locked in an almost three-hour long meeting with Minister of Education, Nicolette Henry and senior officials of the Ministry of Social Protection’s Department of Labour.

The GTU has already notified the Ministry of Education that teachers would go on an indefinite strike from August 27, 2018.

Stressing that government could not afford more than the GY$700 million set aside to pay yet to be calculated increased salaries and GY$200 million to fund increases for some teachers working for several years within certain salary scales, the Education Minister said the next step would be conciliation and eventually arbitration if there is a deadlock.

President of the Guyana Teachers Union, Mark Lyte and his delegation emerged from a more than two-hour long meeting telling more than 40 teachers who were waiting outside the Ministry of Education’s offices that the two sides have reached a deadlock. “We are coming out very dissatisfied with this engagement for the simple reason that our salary issues were a major concern here. The increases in salaries and other financial benefits have all been pushed down, they remain the same,” he said. “Our main concern is that our teachers cannot survive on the salaries they are receiving and, therefore, the struggle continues,” he added.

The union wants a 40 percent salary hike for 2016, 45 percent in 2017, and 50 percent in 2018,  2019 and and 2020 for all categories of teachers.

President David Granger passing the protesting teachers outside the Ministry of Education.

Government, he said, was unprepared to offer increased incentives for higher qualifications, and no increases in clothing and hard-line allowances. Government maintained that the annual clothing allowance should be GY$8,000 from the new school year 2018-2019 instead of GY$25,000. The government also reiterated that it could not afford to increase allowances for higher qualifications, saying it should remain at GY$4,000 for a certificate, GY$6,000 for a diploma, GY$10,000 for a Masters and GY$30,000 for  a doctorate. The union had wanted GY$ 7,000  for a Certificate in Education; GY$10,000 for a Diploma; GY$25,000 for a Masters, GY$35,000 for a Doctoral Degree, GY$6,000 for a Management Certificate and GY$10,000 for a Special Needs Certificate.

Lyte said the Minister responsible for Labour  would now have to put in place an arbitrator to resolve the dispute, but he later told Demerara Waves Online News that the union has to seek legal advice before notifying the ministry that there is a deadlock.

President of the Guyana Teachers Union =, Mark Lyte briefing reporters and teachers shortly after he and his delegation emerged from a meeting with officials of the Ministries of Education and Social Protection.

The Minister of Education would then have to inform the Ministry responsible for Labour that the two sides should head to conciliation and if that fails, they would have to move to arbitration which could end with an award of increase in salaries that will be binding on government and the trade union.

The Minister of Education said she has not yet referred the pay dispute to conciliation until she receives further information from the union. “I don’t think they (GTU) mentioned a time-frame but indicated that I intend to get back to the union within 72 hours, certainly to have them sign off on the first minutes,” she said.

The GTU President said the Ministry of Education agreed to hire specialists for schools that have dormitories to relieve burdens from headteachers, hinterland teachers are to be given return airfares to where they belong once per term, and the establishment of a revolving housing fund committee.