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Education Ministry refuses to go to arbitration in exchange for calling off strike

GTU President Mark Lyte, acting Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Education Adele Clarke, Chief Education Officer Marcel Hutson and GTU General Secretary, Coretta Mc Donald chatting in the compound of the Ministry of Social Protections Department of Labour after both delegations were asked to leave the boardroom by Labour Department officials.

The Guyana Teachers’ Union (GTU) Wednesday afternoon failed in its bid to get government’s Labour Department to agree to send the long-running pay dispute to arbitration.

“We are willing to call the strike off tonight if they agree to our terms,” said union General Secretary, Coretta Mc Donald after the one-hour long talks.

Asked if the GTU was still willing to return to the negotiating table to consider even a reduced offer on the 40 percent pay hike being demanded, Union President Mark Lyte said, “We can’t trust the process any longer.” He said the Department of Labour officials and Junior Labour Minister have compromised the process by asking the union to accept government’s offer.

Lyte said the two sides were at an “impasse” because the Ministry of Education was demanding that it wants conciliation.

Chief Education Officer, Marcel Hutson reluctantly spoke with the media, saying that “we want our students in school”.

Already, the union has acknowledged that government must first agree to arbitration in keeping with an accord for the avoidance and settlement of disputes.

The GTU General Secretary, Coretta on Wednesday told reporters that she read a statement to a team led by Chief Labour Officer, Charles Ogle. The Ministry of Education’s Chief Education Officer, Marcel Hudson head his team in the talks.

The statement that Mc Donald read to the meeting recommends that the strike be called off based on the following terms: No victimisation, no loss of pay and seniority, the pay and related issues be referred to a three-member arbitration panel, the chairman of the arbitration panel be agreed upon by the union and the Ministry of Education before teachers resume duty, and the status quo ante remains in place. The GTU also proposes that one person each is nominated by the union and the employer.

The GTU wants the arbitration panel to inquire into the dispute that led to the strike, take evidence from the union and employee and make a “just” award based on such evidence. The union is demanding a 40 percent increase in salaries for 2016 and five percent annually  from 2016 to 2020.

However, government has offered what it says it can afford a ball park of GY$700 million for 2018 and GY$200 million to adjust some salary scales.

For its part, the GTU’s coffers have a mere GY$9 million from which it can pay strike relief to the more than 7,000 government-employed teachers.