Teachers prefer allowances instead of salary increases; Ali shuns call for negotiations with GTU

Last Updated on Tuesday, 3 October 2023, 0:05 by Denis Chabrol

eadmistress for Vreed-en-Hoop Primary School, Joan Bhagwandass

A number of teachers on Monday told President Irfaan Ali that they prefer increased allowances rather than a salary hike, sparking off a criticism by a senior trade unionist.

Headmistress for Vreed-en-Hoop Primary School, Joan Bhagwandass echoed the views of several other teachers in justifying the need for allowances rather than increased salaries which are taxed. “Whenever I hear a raise in pay (salary), I become worried, concerned because I know that when we get a raise in salary, when I go the supermarket I’m taking home less so what I’m asking is that instead of giving us an addition to the salary, give us allowances in whatever way,” she said.

“Sad day for trade Unionism. I wish the teachers allow their union to represent them. They missed the main issue affecting the nation’s educators, a livable salary,” a senior trade unionist, however, told Demerara Waves Online News. Trade unionists have long voiced concern that allowances are not used to calculate pensions and gratuities.

The GTU did not offer a position on Monday’s meeting, but recently that union’s General Secretary had said the aim of direct talks with the teachers was to break up the union.

Imran Ally, the GTU Central Corentyne Branch Chairman and General Council representative

President Ali also announced that GY$700 million would be paid to teachers by the end of September to bring an end to anomalies in minimum salaries retroactive to September 2020. He said the payout would be included in salaries for October 2023.  It is unclear whether that would address the GTU’s concern about de-bunching of experienced teachers from new teachers whose salaries, the bargaining agent had said, ought to be lower than their longer-serving counterparts.

At the meeting held at State House, after Imran Ally, the GTU Central Corentyne Branch Chairman and General Council representative welcomed other teachers’ ideas for non-salary benefits. However, when he reminded the President, government ministers and other officials that the union was still awaiting negotiations on its multi-year proposal that had been tabled on “several occasions.” “It is our intention that we will have that conversation, that dialogue to ensure that we can… inasmuch as we have already started to see many of the requests or demands being acceded to, we are still hoping that we can have the conversation, the dialogue, the engagement in a very non-partisan manner,” the GTU official said.

However, the President appeared to dismiss any idea of collective bargaining between his administration and the GTU. “That’s why we are here all together.  You can’t want it more open than this and the union was invited to this also. I can’t be more open than this. We have to be very open about this. I invited not only union, but the teachers and I have allowed everyone to speak frankly what they want to speak beyond any three-year agreement or any proposal because I’ve said from day-one that I believe in a much broader approach to these things,” he said.

The GTU’s proposal calls for a 25 percent across-the-board increase in salary for 2019, and 20 percent for every other year (2020, 2021, 2022, 2023) be granted to all categories of teachers\teacher educators for the years 2019-2023. The union is also asking for an additional  performance based incentive of two percent annually of the total teachers’ wage bill for all eligible teachers; a monthly emotional/stress/risk Allowance of $5,000, a monthly internet allowance for GY$10,000; GY$10,000 to all teachers who use their motor vehicles, boats and motor cycles to attend workshops, orientation sessions, emergencies at school, to uplift grants, pay sheets and/or are travelling for the conduct of Teaching Practice organized by the Cyril Potter College of Education; a monthly allowance of GY$7,000 to conduct business on behalf of their institutions.

The Guyanese leader promised that he and Cabinet would consider the teachers’ suggestions such as transportation allowances, owning their own means of transportation, stipends for work during vacation, welfare vouchers, allowances for marking School-Based Assessments, advance on gratuity, increased hinterland allowance, changes to duty free concessions from at minimum a Senior Assistant Master/Mistress, incremental salary increases based on qualifications, an end to contract teachers, the provision of Whitley Council leave every three years rather than every four years,  workbooks rather than exercise books, the use of hinterland land titles as collateral at commercial banks and the . “Now that I have a full understanding directly from you as to what your priorities are, I am now in a better position to come up with a holistic approach on how we deal with the welfare of teachers and students together,” he said.

Recommendations were also made by teachers to improve ventilation, provide potable water, and provision of the STEM programme to hinterland schools, the establishment of a bank in Region One (Barima-Waini) and the provision of laptops to teachers. They also want a period cash grant.

After that is done, he said government would make announcements in keeping with available financial resources.

The President also announced that government would be facilitating the negotiation of mortgages for teachers and possibly provide architectural designs and some building materials.