GTU considers options to prevent removal of teachers from paysheets, sustain pressure for increased salaries

Last Updated on Wednesday, 19 June 2024, 18:35 by Writer

More than 800 teachers Tuesday night mulled options to ensure their names are not taken off paysheets and were told that another round of High Court action could be taken to force the Minister of Labour to send the pay dispute to arbitration.

GTU Vice President Collis Nicholson stressed the need for teachers to return to work at least on the last day of the current (August) term and the first day of the new (Christmas) term to ensure that their names are not taken off paysheet and suffer, at least, a three-month long delay in being paid their salaries. “The precedence would have already been set that if you are not there the last and the first day that your names are most times taken off of the paysheet and your salaries withheld,” he said, assuring that the union executive did not want to make a unilateral decision.

A number of teachers recommended that they return to school on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of the last week of this term to prepare for the start of the new school year, in keeping with the education ministry’s rules.

Another related option was the signing of a terms of resumption without any payments – such as a 20-percent interim salary increase, a GY$150,000 cash grant or the reinstatement of the union dues – but with 21 days of conciliation in July through the Chief Labour Officer or push for arbitration within 14 days in July and August failing which strike action would resume at the start of the new school year. “If that in itself fails, then come September, we can go on our full-blown industrial action again,” Mr Nicholson said.

If the GTU and the Ministry of Education do not mutually agree to arbitration or the Minister of Labour, Joseph Hamilton does not order arbitration, the GTU Vice President said he was advised that the High Court could order the Labour Minister to send the dispute to arbitration. “I know, having discussions, with a legal mind and that mind would have alluded to the fact that if we cannot have voluntary arbitration and the minister refuses to do his bit for mandatory arbitration, there can be a legal petition in the court to ensure that he carrues out his function,” the GTU Vice President.

A number of teachers had mixed views about whether or not to sign in for duty on the last and first days of the current and upcoming terms. “If we on strike, we on strike. We got to pick a struggle, If the union has not called back that letter saying we are no longer on strike, nobody ain’t got no right saying that we have to report the last day and first day,” a teacher said.

Mr Nicholson expressed disappointment at the fact that other local affiliates of the Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC), Caribbean Union of Teachers and the global teachers’ labour confederation, Education International, were not providing sufficient tangible support. “We have not seen anyone of them speaking directly to the Ministry of Education or the Government of Guyana about the situation and even our sister unions under the Guyana Trades Union Congress, they have not given us any tangible support. Everyone is speaking about writing, everyone is speaking about pushing forward but no one is there to assist us in moving forward and so I am not sure how much more we can do in terms of writing and to garner support from international organisations and agencies at this point in time but we will continue to push forward to make sure that whatever decision is being made, our members – the teachers – will benefit holistically from it,” he said.

Similarly, GTU General Secretary, Coretta McDonald flayed union branch officials for breaking the strike. “Quite a lot of our branch reps are in school and that is very, very disappointing…We cannot be branch officials and be in school while the union is on strike,” she told the more-than-two-hour meeting.

Ms McDonald was harshly critical of the Ministry of Education’s refusal to reinstate the automatic deduction and remittance of union dues. “This is telling us the monsters that we are dealing with,” she said. The trade unionist said steps would be taken to target parents by sharing pamphlets in communities highlighting the impact of government’s intransigence on students. Minibus operators and food sellers, she said, would also be communicated with about the adverse impact of the more than 70-day-long strike by teachers.

The GTU General Secretary noted that the highest paid educator, at the level of a principal, earns the Guyana equivalent of US$1,888 compared to US$2,500 being earned by a regular teacher in St Lucia.