Non-involvement of GTU in President-teachers consultations is union busting- Mc Donald

Last Updated on Monday, 11 September 2023, 15:27 by Denis Chabrol

General Secretary of the Guyana Teachers’ Union, Coretta Mc Donald addressing the University of Guyana- sponsored ‘Turkeyen-Tain Talks’ whose topic was “Education as Freedom: Education Reform and Socio-Economic Development in Guyana”.

Amid uncertainty over whether President Irfaan Ali would be holding talks with the Guyana Teachers’ Union (GTU) to discuss salaries and other benefits or he would be relying only on his meetings directly with teachers across the country, the union on Monday accused government of embarking on union busting tactics.

“It is a form of union busting and it is being very, very disrespectful and it is eroding the entire process of collective bargaining to which Guyana is one of the signatories under the ILO (International Labour Organisation). We signed on to that but like everything else when you’re in the seat, you see things differently than when you’re not in the seat,” she told Demerara Waves Online News.

Ms Mc Donald questioned the President’s public pronouncements about an impending “comprehensive package” for teachers without meeting with the teachers. She said the GTU had no problem with the President meeting teachers whenever he goes to open new schools, but she objected to the union being disrespected. “There’s a union- a legal body that represents teachers. You are refusing to engage that body,” she said.

She said the union was an important stakeholder, having been elected by teachers to speak on their behalf. The Ali-led government is being increasingly cited for ignoring the elected opposition representatives in local and town councils and the National Assembly.

President Irfaan Ali at the weekend said when he returns to Guyana from the United Nations General Assembly, he would be consulting teachers about salaries and other benefits. “There will be the adjustment for teachers,” he said, and promised that government would address whatever the educators raise.  Asked whether the GTU would be involved in those talks, the President said “every Guyanese who wants to be involved; my consultations are very open.”

Minister of Education Priya Manickchand on Monday did not say definitively whether the GTU would be involved in the President’s discussions, saying that his office was now responsible for salaries. “We continue at the Ministry of Education to speak to GTU very regularly and cordially. We have, I think, a good relationship with professional matters but the President has made it clear that his office will deal with salaries and that kind of benefit,” she said.

Minister of Education Priya Manickchand.

She said “I’m not sure” whether the President would be engaging the GTU which is the workers’ representative. “I think there are very many different ways to determine. If I were awaiting on any union or PTA (Parent Teachers Association) body or so on to say what some of the needs are, people would still be without needs so I, too, like engaging directly with the immediate users of a particular system,” she said. The GTU-Ministry of Education Collective Bargaining Agreement expired in 2019 but a clause in that accord states that until there is an agreement, the existing one remains in force.

Successive governments have over the years been imposing salary increases unilaterally on government employees.

According to the union’s General Secretary, due to the union’s structure which allows for a countrywide spread of executives, a number of them would be present at the President’s meetings with teachers but not necessarily as union representatives. “We will participate in those meetings as educators because when we go there, we are not going there with a position from the union. When we meet the union, whenever he invites to meet with us, then we’ll have a union position with a mandate that is coming from our teachers,” she added.

The GTU’s proposal was first submitted to the Guyana government under A Partnership for National Unity+Alliance For Change in 2019 and again to the People’s Progressive Party Civic-led administration with the hope of starting negotiations in September-October, 2020.

In addition to no salary increases, the GTU is lamenting the GY$8,000 per year clothing allowance, de-bunching of salaries.