Teachers disappointed pay dispute ends in strike

The headteacher at Hope Secondary speaks to the minister about the challenges facing teachers (Delano Williams photo)

Some teachers are disappointed that what should have been constructive talks between the government and the Guyana Teachers’ Union (GTU) has gone “out of hand,” resulting in a countrywide strike.

Both the government and the GTU are being criticised for allowing once amicable discussions, to result in strike action with, still, little to no benefit to both teachers and students caught in the mix.

“I think this strike, in the first place, should have never happened. It should have never happened. I said [to myself] that if the government is what we perceive them to be then we’re not going to have this strike. The mere fact that we’re having this strike is sending out some implications or indications. We’re not supposed to allow this thing to meet at this level where the strike had to be on… things can be handled better for both sides. The union’s side and the Ministry of Education’s side,” said one headteacher at the Hope Secondary School on Tuesday.

Parents and teachers gather at Queens College on Tuesday to meet with the Education Minister and her team (Delano Williams photo)

She was, at the time, making remarks during a meeting with Education Minister Nicolette Henry who was listening to the concerns and recommendation of parents and teachers. The headteacher’s remarks were met with a loud round of applause from many who turned out to the event.

Minister Henry took the opportunity to discuss with the audience, the process by which the matter between the government and GTU is being handled which she says meets established protocol, at least on the government’s end.

“I had discussions with the union on every matter that they put forward to the ministry…it is the union, who on every occasion that the meeting broke down, walked out or didn’t show up. But we will continue to [seek negotiation]. Out of eight matters that came up, the government agreed in part or in all to seven out of eight. How can any rational human being say that that represents disrespect or lack of care?” Henry questioned.

She then outlined the eight areas requested by the union that the government would have granted which included: duty-free concessions; scholarships to teachers; headteachers relived of certain duties; travel allowances for hinterland teachers; clothing allowances; considerations for teachers who work with special needs students and more.

However, Henry said that even with these agreements the union did not allow the government to move forward with its implementation. “I went so far where the collective bargaining agreement speaks to the implementation of what we would have agreed to within 72 hours. I said…could we go ahead and implement what we have agreed on so that the teachers can start benefitting from these things. The union said no, they won’t do that they wanted to wait until there was a complete resolution,” she said.

The most recent concerns coming from GTU on its interactions with the government have surrounded complaints that ministries are not taking into consideration the union’s agenda or availability when scheduling meetings.

Although the union previously stated that, due to this, today’s meeting would have to be postponed, the GTU has since agreed to a meeting today at 10:00hrs. Apart from this, other issues were raised on parental involvement and teachers who are forced to work ‘side jobs’ to make ends meet, even as they try to remain contented.

Later at Queen’s College, Minister Henry explained the government’s challenge by stating: “I personally believe teachers work very hard but I also believe that other categories of workers also work very hard. So, sometimes as government it’s like you’re a parent. It’s as though you have, let’s say 100 dollars and you have five children and there is one child who is asking for 60 dollars.

“You have to make a decision whether you’re going to give the one child the 60 dollars and divide the other for the remainder or whether you would want to apply the principles of equity.”

However, teachers are still highlighting their financial plight as one which remains overbearing and must be addressed in some way. “I know there are other headteachers who have been going to school because we have so much to do and we don’t want to be a in as situation whereby we can’t be able to pay our bills.

You can’t be able to pay your mortgage, you can’t be able to put gas in your tank for your vehicle and so the struggle is on and the struggle is real,” the headteacher said.