Teachers Union wants interim pay increase, education ministry rules out talks under duress

Last Updated on Friday, 17 May 2024, 0:50 by Writer

A group of teachers protesting outside the Ministry of Labour on Tuesday, May 14, 2024 while their union representatives were meeting with teams from the Labour and Education Ministries.

The Guyana Teachers’ Union (GTU) is demanding a 20 percent interim pay increase before the teacher’s strike is called off to make way for the start of mediation, but the Ministry of Education on Wednesday said the union’s demand amounted to duress.

“We wanted to include an interim payout to teachers before we resume school and have the situation normal so we put on the table an interim percentage increase while we meet to discuss what will be the final numbers,” GTU President Dr Mark Lyte told Demerara Waves Online News.

The Education Ministry, which called for conciliation, noted that the 1990 Memorandum of Agreement it signed with the GTU bars any form of industrial action by the union during conciliation.

Ahead of the resumption of talks at the Labour Ministry on Monday at 1:30 p.m., the union said the strike continues with a National Day of Prayers on Thursday and a hashtag day on Friday.

The education ministry, in a statement on Wednesday said the GTU was demanding an interim payout of a 20 percent increase in salaries before the strike is called off to allow for conciliation of the core dispute by the Chief Labour Officer. At issue is the GTU’s demand for negotiations for a new multi-year agreement from 2019 to 2023 and the education ministry’s insistence on only a multi-year agreement from 2024.

The Ministry of Education warned that if the GTU did not relent on its need for an interim salary increase, negotiations for a terms of resumption would break down. “Nowhere in the world would it be considered normal for negotiations to happen under duress. The GTU’s insistence that an across the board 20% be paid before any talks can happen is duress. Given the GTU’s many years as a trade union body, they must know that this is unusual, unacceptable, unreasonable and would result in the breakdown in talks,” the education ministry said.

Though the union has repeatedly sought to assure Guyanese that the strike was not politically motivated, the education ministry said that due to the current stance by the GTU, it was clear that there were motives other than workers’ welfare that were influencing the industrial unrest. “It is clear then that teachers’ welfare is not the paramount consideration for the Guyana Teachers’ Union. Teachers are being used as pawns in a much larger, politically directed plot. This is destructive and sad,” the ministry said.

People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPPC) General Secretary, Bharrat Jagdeo earlier this month remarked that street protests by People’s National Congress Reform-associated lawyers Darren Wade and Roysdale Forde at the joint GTU-GTUC May Day Rally showed the political undercurrents of the strike.

The GTU President also told Demerara Waves Online News that the Ministry of Education disagreed with another aspect of the union’s proposal that if there was no resolution for the stipulated period of conciliation, they would take the dispute to arbitration. “Of course, they didn’t agree to that,” he said.