‘GTU’s actions are not consistent with initial agreement’- Education Minister

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Days before teachers represented by the Guyana Teachers Union (GTU) proceed on strike over the lack of salary increases, Education Minister, Nicolette Henry said another meeting is planned for to iron out the outstanding issues.

The Minister, according to a statement from the Ministry of the Presidency’s Public Information and Press Services Unit, noted that talks between the Government and the GTU on Thursday last were not concluded since some of the Union’s terms were agreed upon and a decision was taken for another meeting to be held shortly.

Following the meeting on Thursday at which the GTU’s proposal for salary increases across the board in a multi-year agreement –from 20% for 2016 to 50% for 2018 to 2020 – was refused, the Union called a countrywide strike from the beginning of the 2018/2019 pre term.

The Education Ministry has instead proposed a ballpark figure of $700M to facilitate an increase in salaries for all teachers based on the current salary scale. The Ministry posited that a specialist will have to be contracted to work with the GTU (if agreed) to determine the percentage of increase per category.

In Tuesday evening’s statement, Minster Henry was quoted saying that the Government remains committed to paying teachers their increases.

Given the differences of opinions and the number of issues that had to be addressed, the Union and the Government’s side “agreed in principle, that we will meet subsequently to address the issues that were not resolved at that first meeting. So, my understanding and at least the agreement that came out of that meeting is that we will meet subsequently and it is my intention to invite the Union to continue to have meetings as was agreed [to] at our initial meeting,” the Minister said.

She noted that the actions of the Union are not in keeping with the position that was taken at the first meeting but she is prepared to invite the Union back to the table before the week is out.

It is unclear if the Union will attend any meetings to continue negotiations since it has already dispatched letters to schools across the country to notify teachers of the impending strike.

“I’m looking at a meeting this week because it’s both urgent and important and therefore we need to ensure that we continue to address and resolve these issues in the most effective way and with also some amount of expediency,” Minister Henry said.

The Education Minister further explained that the reason the Government’s side proposed a ballpark figure had to do specifically with the process involved in debunching and salary increases. The Minister feels that the 40 percent increase across the board would have further compounded the issue related to debunching.

With the Union calling for a countrywide strike, the Minister noted that the David Granger- led administration is a pro-working class government and therefore believes that engagements for mutual satisfaction must be achieved.

She also made it clear that remunerations will be given in keeping with what can be afforded at this time.
“We, first and foremost believe that we need to engage, that we need to make teachers aware of where we are, what the government is doing and appeal to them that we are doing the best we can in the circumstances. We will ensure that the teachers are given increases in keeping, of course, with what we can afford,” she said.

The Education Minister noted that it was agreed upon in the initial meeting that a consultant will be hired to determine how these monies are going to be allocated in the case of the teachers, regarding both debunching and salaries.

She noted that the Government, over the past three years, has invested heavily in improving the education system to create a more conducive environment for teaching. Firstly, she noted that notwithstanding the absence of a Multi-year Agreement, the Government provided salary increases in 2016 and 2017 for teachers in accordance with what was given to public servants.

Further to this, Minister Henry said that in an effort to make work less onerous and demanding on teachers, the Ministry has been exploring support mechanisms particularly through Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and by strengthening the human resource capacity.

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