THE opposition leader has maximised the grievances of teachers into a “crisis.” He tried to stoke the strike by telling a section of the media that the teachers’ demands were “legitimate.” He seemed unaware that the week-long protest was over, and he was left with the proverbial gasoline in his hand.

The morbid expectation that the teachers’ strike would be the forerunner to a general shut-down of the country turned into resentment. One of the opposition’s Peepers (KN September 8) claimed that union leaders have been “outfoxed” and “outsmarted” by the government. Resentment gave way to bewilderment, with the Peeper asking why did union leaders wear “green-coloured T-shirts” when they met with government officials for the agreement to proceed towards arbitration. Out of bitterness, detractors would impute betrayal on the part of these leaders who, just days before, were hailed as fighters on a righteous crusade.

No one ever doubted that teachers had genuine grievances, and though only a small section of the teaching staff actually went on strike, civil society was generally in sympathy with teachers. For two weeks some teachers stayed home. Pockets of them, mainly in Linden, protested on the streets, waxing lyrical, “Dey wuk we like a donkey, and pay we like a junkie…”

No one was arrested. No one was harassed. No one was shot. That was unlike the sordid and bloody episodes in Linden a few years back, when peaceful protesters were shot, and three killed; and on the Essequibo Coast when rice farmers were tear-gassed, and hauled before the court.

The action of the teachers fell under provisions of both the Labour Act and, more particularly, an agreement made in 1983 that governs settlement of disputes. It provides for stages in the dispute-resolution process: settlement, conciliation and arbitration.
Both the teachers’ union and the Department of Labour have concluded that conciliation has failed, and opted for arbitration, at which stage a decision on the issues would be final and binding. During the arbitration period, there would be, on the part of the union, no strike, stoppage of work, go-slow, boycott or picketing. On the part of the Ministry of Education, there would be no recrimination, loss of pay, no lock-outs or interference with the arbitration process.

When I wrote my column “Burden and Benefit” last week, I did so with a heavy heart. Both Sita and I have been teachers, giving together some 50 years of service to the “noble profession.” But I also read with a troubled mind a statement by a union leader that teachers were given a better deal under the previous PPP government.
For the record, the coalition government gave teachers an unprecedented scale of salary increases, ranging in 2016 between 10 to 6%, and in 2017 between 8 to 6%. The lowest paid teachers received the higher percentage increases.

Under the Jagdeo presidency, when the economy was in the red, an across-the-board “full and final” 7% was paid for 2005. The standard, miserly, “band you waist” 5% was allowed for all succeeding years between 2006 and 2015.

Having given those increases as indicated above for 2016 and 2017, and explaining that it could not afford anything better at this time, the coalition government placed on the table an offer of $710M for increase in salaries for 2018. In addition, it made available $200M for “de-bunching” to rectify anomalies in salary scales.

The APNU+AFC Government committed to improve, even marginally, the non-salaried status quo and conditions of employment, as follows:-
1. Improved Monthly Qualifications Allowances:
(a) Certificate in Education $ 4,000.
(b) Diploma Education $ 6,000.
(c) Master’s Degree $10,000.
(d) Doctoral Degree $30,000.
2. Clothing Allowance:
$8,000 from the new school year 2018/2019.
3. Whitley Council Allowance:
To be paid in June of the year of entitlement. Teachers will continue to receive Whitley Council Leave and Allowance every four years.
4. Annual Leave:
In addition to the customary Easter, August and Xmas breaks, principals and deputy principals of Technical Trade/Craft Institutions are granted one month’s leave during the students’ vacation.
5. Duty Free Concession:
Teachers will be granted duty-free concessions per year in keeping with the agreed categories and eligibility criteria. This includes duty-free concessions for motor vehicles and ATV mountain bikes. Scholarships:
Thirty teachers will continue to receive scholarships for a period of four years at the University of Guyana. An additional 20 scholarships will be granted to teachers to pursue science at the University of Guyana.
6. Hinterland Benefits:
The policy will be enforced to ensure that teachers and their families who serve in the interior are given, once per year, a return fare to the coastland.
7. Housing Fund:
The Ministry of Education and the Guyana Teachers Union to mutually agree on a mechanism for implementation of the Housing Revolving Fund, which was first promised by the former government, and could have accumulated some $200 million over the years that it was not disbursed.
8. Remote Area Incentives:
Teachers in hinterland areas (Regions One, Seven, Eight and Nine) received 80% increase. The 2017 rates of $5000 and $7,000 were increased to $9000 and $12000 respectively.

Apart from the allowances, there have been marked improvements in the teaching sector, which include major overhauls of school buildings and facilities.
Monthly stipends for students at the Cyril Potter College and Linden Pre-Service centres. These have been increased in 2018 by 73% for Resident, and 53% for non-Resident trainees. The stipends were increased from an average $5,300 to $9,000 (Resident), and to $11,000 (Non-Resident).

Since taking office, the new government has distributed a total of 9,213 laptop computers to teachers, and more than 5,500 teachers have been trained in Basic Computer Literacy by the ICT Unit of the Ministry of Education. Additionally, 84 secondary schools, 89 primary schools, 21 tertiary education, training and skills-building institutions and nine technical/ vocational training schools have been connected to the e-Government network and provided with free access to the internet. Further, some 120 ICT Hubs have been established, and both teachers and students can access internet free of cost.

The union should justifiably feel betrayed that not a cent has been disbursed by the former government under the Housing Revolving Fund, and that the promise of 100 house lots each year for teachers was not kept. However, there is no evidence to sustain the argument that things were better off for teachers under the former government, unless the statement asserting that was intended as a subtle political message to the government folks in green to do better for its constituency.

This, of course, is a horse of a different colour, which the opposition leader would find difficult to flog as he nibbles away, like a rodent on crumbs, at small issues.