GTU, Gov’t negotiations still at stalemate, Henry says all schools will be opened

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By Bibi Khatoon

Education Minister, Nicolette Henry has promised to ensure that all schools are reopened on Tuesday after the ongoing strike action by Teachers left some 34 schools closed on the first day of the new school term.

There are 929 public schools across the country, the Ministry said.

At a late-night press conference on Monday at the NCERD building in Kingston, Georgetown, Education officials claimed that no schools were closed in Region Four.

However, impromptu visits to the New Diamond/Grove, Peters Hall and Providence Primary schools on Monday morning by News Room found that these schools were closed and parents were instructed to take their children home.

Almost all schools in Linden, Region 10 were closed even though the Ministry of Education activated its contingency plan of placing trainee Teachers and retirees at the schools.

“We will work to ensure that those schools that were closed today [Monday] that they are open tomorrow [Tuesday] and that we continue to keep them open as far as possible,” the Minister said in response to questions surrounding the closure of schools.

According to the Ministry’s statistics, which was provided by Education Officer, Marcia Paddy, a total of 1,025 teachers were on strike in the various regions; this figure does not include Region Five.

The numbers provided by the Ministry, however, are way less than the 4,000 figure which was revealed by the Guyana Teachers Union (GTU).

While the union said around 1,000 Teachers were on strike in Linden, the Ministry said approximately 400 hundred Teachers were on strike there.

Contingency Plan

The Education Officer related that a total of 171 retired and volunteer Teachers along with 400 trainee Teachers were deployed on Monday as part of the Ministry’s contingency plan.

After assessing the situation, the Education Ministry is also looking into its database of applications on file to fill the gaps and placing advertisements for volunteers.

According to Ministry Henry, there are 2,500 persons on the Ministry’s database to be deployed. The list, she said, includes graduates from the Cyril Potter College of Education (CPCE) and applications at the Ministry.

“We have a number of persons who have applied to the Ministry and we’ve been in touch with those whose applications we have on file, and I have also asked the Teaching Service Commission (TSC) to provide us with a list by Region, of all of the persons that would have met the requirements to be recruited that are on file,” the Education Minister said.

She could not give the cost associated with recruiting temporary Teachers.

Negotiations with GTU

Meanwhile, despite the challenges caused by the strike action, the Minister is not prepared to make a better offer to the union which on Monday said it is willing to accept below its initial 40% proposed salary increases.

Minister Henry adamant that the Conciliation talks and possible arbitration process should be executed.

Acting Permanent Secretary at the Ministry, Adele Clarke calculated that the 40% increase in wages for teachers will cost the Government an additional GY$4 billion.

While President David Granger on Friday last announced that the Finance Ministry is looking to cut corners to make a better offer to the Teachers, Clarke said the Education Ministry is still to hear from the finance officials.

The Education Ministry is also awaiting a call from the Ministry of Social Protection’s Department of Labour to continue with the conciliation process.

Following comments made by the Labour Minister, Keith Scott that Teachers are “selfish and uncaring”, the GTU said it does not trust the Ministry to mediate in the matter.

When asked about this issue on Monday evening, Minister Henry said, “you cannot pick which stage you want to go through. You need to go through each stage before you arrive at the other stage. That is the procedure by which we are guided.”

She also noted that an apology is also up to the Labour Minister to decide. “I could not determine what Mr. Scott should or should not do,” she told reporters.

The GTU during a meeting with its teachers on Monday afternoon noted that the strike action will continue until the Government makes a proposal which is better than the $700M ballpark figure offered.

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