Gov’t could cut expenses to pay teachers better – Opposition Leader

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Contending that there has been wanton spending by the coalition Government, Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo says there is enough money in the public purse to give teachers a better salary.

In fact, he raised the issue with President David Granger when the two met at State House Thursday and urged him to immediately intervene in the ongoing dispute between the Guyana Teachers Union (GTU) and the Ministry of Education.

Jagdeo said he pointed out to President Granger that if the “corrupt” Sussex Street Drug Bond contract is terminated, then the Government would have enough money to increase teachers’ clothing allowance by roughly $16,000.

The former President told a news conference if the administration cuts down on dietary expenses, spending on national events, local travels and the rental of buildings, there will be more than enough money to meet the teachers’ demands.

Reading from the national estimates, he outlined that dietary expenses have increased from $3.6B in 2014 to $5.2B in 2018. He added that for the same years, spending on national and other events increased from $477M to $911M; for local travel, from $1.4B to $2.1B.

According to Jagdeo, all of these expenses do not directly contribute to national development, and therefore can be adjusted downward to ensure teachers get better salaries without increasing overall annual expenditure.

He even blasted the coalition administration for giving teachers such a hard time in the salary increase negotiations when only after a few months in government, ministers’ salaries were drastically hiked.

“This Government has the gall, Henry [Minister of Education Nicolette Henry] and the others to go out and talk about teachers being greedy…when they, without even working a single day, they took a 50% increase for themselves and their salaries have gone close to a million dollars a month,”  Mr Jagdeo expressed.

While explaining that he may not agree with every demand the Teachers Union makes, the Opposition Leader said the educators need to be treated with more respect.

He also contended that their course of action at this stage is not unreasonable since they have been trying for three years to develop a new multiyear agreement on salaries and other benefits.

That agreement expired in December 2015 and the GTU had started talks with the new coalition administration to develop a new agreement to cover another five years.

Talks collapsed between the Ministry of Education and the GTU in October 2017 and the Union threatened to strike, but President Granger intervened and established a Task Force to make recommendations for the teachers’ salary increases and benefits.

The Task Force appointed by the President recommended a 40% across the board increase for 2016 and single digit increases for the ensuing years but when the two parties returned to the bargaining table, the Ministry only offered a ballpark figure of $700M to be divided among roughly $10,000 teachers, presumably for one year only.

This would have worked out to an estimated $5000 increase per teacher per month, a proposal the GTU contended is insulting and had rejected.

The GTU maintained that the 40% increase proposal is just a starting point for negotiations, and they were willing to go lower, but the Ministry never initiated negotiations on reducing the percentage.

Teachers countrywide are currently on strike but the Ministry of Social Protection’s Department of Labour had initiated conciliation to resolve the issues between the GTU and the Education Ministry.

The GTU, however, does not want to participate in conciliation with the Labour Department based on their belief that the Labour Department cannot act in an impartial manner.

The Union wants arbitration to be done by an independent body and has pledged to call off the strike if the Education Ministry agrees.

But the Ministry of Education in a statement Thursday maintained that the process of conciliation must be exhausted, in accordance with the Labour Act, before the parties can head into arbitration.

The Ministry also contended that the strike must be “called off entirely” given the fact that the conciliatory process is not yet concluded. This, the Ministry says, in mandated by the Labour Act.

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