Government is making efforts to have funds transferred from several ministries to satisfy the demands of teachers who are currently on strike for better pay.
President David Granger announced at a rare press conference Friday that the Ministry of Finance will spearhead this arrangement, in a similar fashion as when the administration was sourcing monies to pay retrenched sugar workers their severance.
“The Ministry of Social Protection, which has responsibility for labour and industrial relations, is in touch with the Ministry of Finance to see whether additional funds could be found from other Heads of Government expenditure in order to move closer to the goal of providing sufficient funds to the teachers,” the Head-of-State explained.
Guided by recommendations from a high-level task force established by President Granger, the Guyana Teachers’ Union (GTU) proposed a 40% across the board salary increase for 2016 and expected that the Ministry of Education would initiate negotiations to lower the percentage.
In fact, the Union intended to negotiate a multiyear agreement – from 2016 – 2020 – including salary increases and benefits for each year.
However, after three years of talks, the Ministry only proposed a $700M ballpark increase in salaries, which would amount to an estimated $5,000 increase in monthly salary per teacher for only one year.
This offer was labelled as “insulting” by the GTU who has since mobilized teachers across the country to strike.
But when asked why his Government has not been able to finalise a multiyear agreement with the Union, President Granger said, “I personally feel desirable to have a multiyear agreement but this is not the time now”.
He said the focus right now would be to conclude an agreement which would see the teachers calling off the strike since the Ministry of Education’s contingency plan of retirees and trainees is not desirable for the students.
“The resort to retired teachers and student teachers is undesirable…but it is the only way we can ensure that our students receive continuous education…so it is a temporary measure, if you want to call it a ‘Band-Aid’ and it is not meant to last beyond the present crisis,” the President said.
President Granger is maintaining that the GTU must participate in the process of conciliation/mediation before the aggrieved parties can head into arbitration.
“Strike is an extreme measure that should only be last resort… there should be meditation and if mediation fails, we go to arbitration,” he stated.
But the GTU wants to skip the process of conciliation – which is provided for in the country’s labour laws – because it believes the Department of Labour will not be neutral in trying to address the concerns of the teachers.
The Union has agreed to call off the strike only if the process of arbitration by an independent body is initiated.