GTU willing to go below 40%

President of the GTU Mark Lyte, speaking to members of the media on Tuesday after the union’s General Council meeting (Samuel Maughn photo)

…now says will pay strike relief
-agrees to attend conciliation talks today

UNDER pressure from teachers, the Guyana Teachers Union (GTU) on Tuesday announced that it is ready to dig into its coffers to provide strike relief to its members who join the union’s strike action which commenced on Monday, and is expected to last until the Government agrees to negotiate with the union.

GTU believes that the teachers will support the strike action and although the union does not expect 100 per cent support, it is ready to financially compensate those who choose the route of industrial action.

“We will have to do an evaluation to see how many persons have joined the strike action…based on the amount, we would be able decide if we could offer teachers at least 50 per cent of their salaries or give them full compensation,” said President of the GTU, Mark Lyte during a press conference at the GTU on Tuesday.

He believes that based on its financial position, the GTU would be able to sustain the payment of strike relief for a “fairly long time,” despite there being just about 10,000 teachers in the public sector. In order to solicit the support of the teachers, the union has also agreed to write lending institutions and stores, requesting leniency for teachers who choose to be a part of the industrial action. The industrial action comes after the parties failed to arrive at a consensus primarily on the government’s proposed $700M to facilitate salary increases and $200 million to address de-bunching for 2018.

Lyte said the proposed figure from the government would not be sustainable or acceptable, since it would amount to an increase by GY$5,000 per teacher for one year. The GTU instead proposed an across-the-board increase in salary of 40 per cent for 2016 and incremental increases of five per cent in 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020, respectively, to be granted to all categories of teachers and teacher educators. Although the GTU and the government engaged in follow-up deliberations on the matter, the union had refused to budge from its proposal. Lyte, however, contended that 40 per cent is not the union’s final decision and they, instead, would be willing to negotiate downwards.

“The union always knew that we had an option to negotiate down. What has not happened is that the government did not bring a percentage for us to negotiate down; they brought a ball-park figure… starting point was at 40 per cent with the hope that we could negotiate our way down to an acceptable percentage,” said the GTU president.

Lyte said the 40 per cent increase for 2016 was a recommendation from a task force which was established by President David Grange in 2017 after the union had threatened to strike. Although the GTU believes that Government could afford a 40 per cent increase in salary for teachers, Lyte said they are willing to negotiate once properly approached by the government. The GTU president said, if both the call for increase and negotiations are ignored, the union will continue the strike action and even force government into arbitration which they think should be mediated by a neutral person.

Last week, the union did not attend a conciliation meeting with the Ministry of Social Protection but the meeting was rescheduled for today. The union has agreed to attend the meeting which will be hosted by the Chief Labour Officer (CLO), Charles Ogle.
“Although we will be attending the meeting, we have no faith and trust in the labour department since the minister who is responsible for labour said we should accept government’s offer,” said Lyte, adding that they expect no positive outcome from the meeting.

The first term of the new school year is scheduled to start next Monday, but in some cases the union believes that there will be no teachers to supervise the students. GTU General Secretary Coretta McDonald and Lyte said the teachers who choose to attend school will have full responsibility of the school and the students who attend, even if there are just three teachers.

THE Ministry of Education (MoE) however has a contingency plan in place to ensure that instructional time is not lost, should the strike planned by the GTU progress into the start of the new school term. As part of these backup plans, the ministry said they will recruit senior teachers who are still enrolled at the Cyril Potter College of Education (CPCE), or have just graduated will be enlisted to teach in the schools.

The MoE is also engaging teachers who have retired to lend a hand. And with the educational officers on the ground, the ministry said that every effort is being made to ensure that the curriculum will be delivered as is required.