Last Updated on Sunday, 11 February 2024, 20:05 by Denis Chabrol
President of the Guyana Teachers’ Union (GTU) Mark Lyte on Sunday dismissed government’s claims that billions of dollars in membership dues have been misspent and instead said there is clear evidence that teachers benefit every year from the GY$700 monthly contribution.
“Our members are satisfied that their dues are spent in a very fair and honest manner,” he said.
The Auditor General of Guyana and the Registrar of Commerce, in separate statements, last Friday said the GTU failed to file audited statements since 1989 and financial statements since 2004 respectively.
He boasted that the GTU is the only union locally that holds an annual awards ceremony, has decentralised May Day activities, pays death benefits, provides bursaries for teachers’ children and honours teachers on Valentine’s Day. “We look out for our teachers and for those persons, who are saying that we have not done anything with the dues, you’ve got to look again,” he said. Compared to other unions whose membership dues are as high as GY$2,000 monthly, Dr Lyte said “we’re the most active union out there.”
Lashing out at those who were demanding a refund of their membership dues, he challenged them to similarly ask for refunds of their income taxes and National Insurance Scheme contributions, the trade unionist ruled out corrupt use of funds. “To say that the Guyana Teachers’ Union is misappropriating its funds, we will let the public know that that is a big lie from the pit of hell and I will not sit at the helm of the GTU and allow for any misappropriation of the funds,” he said.
In a more than one-hour Facebook Live that was aimed at drumming up sustained support for a teachers strike that enters its second week on Monday, the trade unionist queried whether Guyana’s former Executive Presidents, Auditors General and Registrars of Commerce over the decades of abdicating their responsibilities to ensure that the GTU and possibly other unions submit their audited accounts and financial statements.
Mr Lyte said said the GTU’s records are audited every year by an auditing firm and the audit reports are tabled before the GTU’s General Council meeting and triennial delegates conferences.
Noting that the almost identical tactic had been used by A Partnership for National Unity+Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) administration in 2018 during a strike for increased salaries and allowances, the GTU President vowed that that would not deter teachers from continuing their strike in 2024 to force government to engage in collective bargaining for a “livable salary”. He warned teachers against being invited by the government in their individual capacity or as non-members of the union for discussions.
“Why was it good for us to fight in 2018, supported then, by this government when they were in opposition and now it is not good to fight against the government for a livable salary?,” he queried rhetorically.
Dr Lyte challenged the Ministry of Legal Affairs to to reveal whether other trade unions and non-governmental organisations had submitted their records. He agreed with Leader of the Alliance For Change (AFC), Attorney-at-Law Khemraj Ramjattan that after a long period of non-compliance and non-enforcement laws become derelict.
He shrugged off threats to take a number of teachers to the the Teaching Service Commission or the School Board Secretariat, saying that a union representative must be present in either body or the cases are struck out.
He said the strike and “other forms of industrial action: would continue until government addresses the teachers’ demands. The GTU this week also plans to seek legal action about threats that had been issued
Dr Lyte praised teachers in Region Two (Pomeroon-Supenaam) and Region Six (East Berbice-Corentyne). Dr Lyte disregarded President Irfaan Ali’s plea for teachers to wait until 2027 when significant oil revenues would be pouring in from which the “best welfare” to be delivered to them.
For his part, Dr Ali again on Sunday flayed those teachers who were falling prey to political machinations instead of takin government’s promise to improve their standard of living in Guyana. “I’m very concerned that the political actors in our society, those political actors who are trying to use our teachers…they are aware that we are committed to a plan in which our teachers will not be prime beneficiaries of the development and advancement of our country but that their position will be comparable to anywhere else in the region,” he said.
Though government has downplayed the impact of the strike and has so far declined to say how many teachers have been turning out to work, President Ali said teachers would see improvements before year-end. “No one needs to push this government. We’re committed to this task,” he said.
He echoed Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo’s position that the union was “totally unaccountable” for at least GY$2 billion in union dues.
Already, the Guyanese leader said government has implemented a number of measures including corrected the salary scales for teachers, increased allowances for qualified teachers, increased the remote area incentive by more than 100 percent, granted 3,800 scholarships to teachers, removed several schemes of work and lesson plans, decided to grant duty free concessions to teachers with three years of service remaining, payment of salaries to trainee teachers and the award of school supply grants. “What more do we need to do to prove to teachers, prove to every category of worker in this country that we have your back?,” he asked.