Withholding teachers’ salary

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WHEN it comes to pay, nobody wants to be deprived of what they feel they have earned, and this is understandable. It was brought to the nation’s attention that teachers in Region Five and Region Ten have complained about their salaries being withheld. This matter involved the Regional Executive Officer (REO) as in the instance of Region Five, and the Regional Education Officers as in the instance of Region Ten. Teachers have had to protest what they said have been acts in breach of their employment.
None other than the Permanent Secretary (PS) in the Ministry of Education, Vibert Welch, has said there is no rule that permits the withholding of earned income. The withholding of salary by the regions had to do with the perception by the respective officers that are involved.

At a place of work or business, and more so in the public service, there are written rules and guidelines that prescribe how issues are to be dealt with. It is reasonable to expect that every supervisory officer will find great benefit in being au fait. Outside of this recognition the public embarrassment being brought to the Government, more so the Ministry of Education, cannot be ignored and may further be pointing to the need for some form of training to address the functions supervisory officers are expected to discharge.

In the Region Five scenario, the teachers not only engaged in protest actions, the public weighing in, and the Guyana Teachers Union issuing an ultimate for the REO to provide the rule that informed his decision, but even the National Assembly felt the need to seek clarification. When PS Welch appeared before the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee, he was asked about the matter and advised that there is no policy/rule authorising withholding of salary. What this could suggest is that the REO may not have seen the importance of contacting the PS before making the decision; the PS may not have been aware of the REO’s action, not advised otherwise, or the advice was ignored.

The Region Five issue happened weeks ago and was resolved, but surprisingly last week there was another report that the Region Ten teachers are seeing their salaries being withheld. This is another unfortunate occurrence that could have been resolved differently were attention paid to the Region Five matter. Teachers are appointed by the Teaching Service Commission and the stipulated rules emanating from the Commission applies across the board. There is a responsibility of the employer to ensure those who they are supervising abide by the rules and a copy of the rules be provided to each employee. In this way it avoids the supervisor disciplining an employee for an infraction the employee is unaware of.

Salary is earned, deemed an individual’s property, and cannot be withheld unless a legal determination has been made to do so. Personal feeling by supervisors is not sufficient to determine any matter where rules advise, and in all instances the latter must supersede. Our erstwhile education officers are trained in education delivery and may not necessarily have the benefit of prior exposure to managing people and the rules that guide such relations. Where they too may operate at such disadvantage, the importance of having them adequately equipped with the relevant tools cannot be over-emphasised.

At a psycho-social level where the Region Five issue has had much public ventilation, and the fact that a similar situation is reportedly occurring in Region Ten, teachers in the other eight regions are likely to be concerned and wondering who would be next. At the same time it is not lost on us that there may be similar occurrences in other regions which have not been made public. It is most reasonable to say the last thing any worker wants to have is his or her earned income withheld or feels that such could be possible. These two matters are also unnecessary distraction for the government and its image. There are too many issues people have to worry about in their day-to-day activities, which their income is hinged on and they plan around; to deny it would be adding undue discomfort. It is hoped that the Region Ten issue is resolved soonest and will be the last of this nature.