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Conciliation talks: Govt rejects GTU’s 20% across-the-board increase ultimatum

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…says demand shocked Ministry, unreasonable

The sudden ultimatum by the Guyana Teachers’ Union (GTU) to demand that Government pay all teachers a 20 per cent across-the-board increase before it further engages the Education Ministry on conciliation talks has shocked education authorities and has been rejected.
On day two of conciliation talks held between the Education Ministry and the GTU, a document citing a demand of an interim 20 per cent across-the-board salary payment for teachers was presented to the Chief Labour Officer by representatives of the GTU.
The Union demanded that the interim 20 per cent increase be paid to teachers before any conciliation regarding the time frame for the payment period for salary increases continues.

Education Minister Priya Manickchand during a press conference held at the Ministry’s Brickdam office

The demand made by the GTU is aside from monies to be paid to teachers when a payment period for the multi-year agreement is decided upon.
Additionally, the Union requested that Labour Minister Joseph Hamilton recuse himself from the negotiations process.
Before this, both parties on Tuesday had agreed on a terms of resumption (TOR) agreement and were prepared to sign said document presented by the Union, so that there was no victimisation of either party.
The document stipulated that during the consideration of the matter in dispute, there shall be no strike, stoppage of work whether of a partial or general nature, go-slow, boycott, picketing, retardation of production, or any other interference with the Ministry’s operations, by the Union.
In addition, the TOR stated that there shall not be any lockout or any other form of interference with the Ministry’s operations, by the Union, nor shall there be any lockout or any other form of interference by the Ministry.
At a specially-convened press briefing on Wednesday, Education Minister Priya Manickchand stated that the request by the Union was unreasonable and made it clear that the Government would not sign off on the Union’s request and would also not negotiate under duress.
She contends that GTU was setting a “very bad precedent not only for the Guyana Government but for Governments across the region”.
“My position is given that the Union is a union of many years, they’re not new. They didn’t start two years ago. This is a long-standing union who have had some honourable positions in the past, so they know unions. Given the fact that they know this is not how industrial relations output. My conclusion could only be that they intended to derail this process. They do not intend to have a conciliation. They want to keep teachers on the road. They want to be disruptive to the education system. And we believe that is … politically, directed because no one who has the interest of children at heart could tell me that this is a good place to be in,” the Education Minister said.
Manickchand further disclosed that the door was still open for the Union to rescind its demand and come on Monday when both parties are expected to meet again.
She explained that after Monday, the Government would take action against the Union, and distance learning would be instituted in homes to combat the current learning loss.
“We have a standing, sacred-almost duty to make sure that we look after children and anything that comes in the way of that has to be treated condignly and swiftly with solutions.
“I hope that the same members in that Union body can take the Union back and bring it to that place (of being reasonable), so that on Monday we end up with a resolution and conciliation agreement where we go to the table and engage in the conciliation process. If that breaks down, then there is a place for arbitration,” the Minister added.

Union never interested
Meanwhile, in a release following the press conference, the Education Ministry said that it was now clear, if it weren’t before, that there was no interest on the part of the GTU to engage in conciliation with a view to resolving the issues as is provided for in the grievance procedure in the 1990 Memorandum of Agreement.
“Nowhere in the world would it be considered normal for negotiations to happen under duress. The GTU’s insistence that an across-the-board 20 per cent be paid BEFORE any talks can happen is duress. Given the GTU’s many years as a trade union body, they must know that this is unusual, unacceptable, unreasonable and would result in the breakdown in talks,” the Ministry said.
According to the Ministry, it is clear then that teachers’ welfare is not the paramount consideration for the Teachers’ Union. Teachers are being used as pawns in a much-larger, politically-directed plot. This is destructive and sad.
“The Government of Guyana reiterates its commitment to advancing every aspect of the education sector. Teachers are the backbone of this sector and are and will be treated accordingly,” the Ministry stated.

Conciliation talks
The GTU and the Guyana Government, through the Education Ministry, on Monday met for conciliation talks regarding the ongoing teachers’ strike, which resumed last Thursday, May 9, 2024.
This was facilitated following the issuance of a letter from the Official of Education Ministry to the Labour Ministry requesting that its Subject Minister, Joseph Hamilton intervene in the matter with the GTU.
The request made by the Education Ministry was provided for under the provisions of the 1990 Memorandum of Agreement for “the avoidance and settlement of disputes” between the Government of Guyana and the Guyana Teachers’ Union, and the Labour Act, Cap. 98:01, which allows the impasse in respect of the timeframe to be referred to the Labour Minister for conciliation.
It is said that the engagement is part of efforts to come to an agreement on the period over which teachers will be paid, which Government said should commence from 2024 onwards, however, GTU wants the talks to be centred on the 2019-to-2024 period.
Efforts to contact GTU officials for a comment on these developments proved futile.

Resumption of strike
The GTU resumed strike action across the country Thursday last, after talks between the Union and the Education Ministry reportedly broke down.
Teachers had only on March 6 returned to the classroom, after striking for some four weeks.
The teachers, through their union, had ended the strike and agreed to return to discussions with the Government regarding salary increases.
When the strike had ended, the Union and the Government were engaged in discussions on issues affecting teachers.
GTU General Secretary Coretta McDonald later told media operatives that the decision to resume the strike was because the Union believes there is nothing forthcoming from the Government as it relates to collective bargaining.
The Government has already addressed over 20 issues affecting teachers, aimed at improving their working conditions and overall welfare.
In fact, at the time of the last strike, President Dr Irfaan Ali had reminded that he has already met with teachers across the country and outlined the Government’s plan to improve their livelihood.
Moreover, Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo had calculated that by the end of the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Government’s current term in office, graduate teachers would have benefited from salary increases amounting to nearly 50 per cent.
On April 19, the High Court had ruled in favour of the GTU, and stipulated that teachers’ salaries should not be cut following their participation in the strike.
The High Court had also ruled against Government’s decision to discontinue the deduction of union dues from the salaries of teachers for the GTU.
This came on the heels of the Guyana Government’s refusal to negotiate for salary increases for the period December 2019 to 2023, but it instead was ready to do so for a multi-year agreement starting 2024.
Attorney General Anil Nandlall has since said Government will appeal the ruling at the level of the Guyana Court of Appeal, with the likelihood that the case will go to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), Guyana’s final court of appeal. (G1)

The post Conciliation talks: Govt rejects GTU’s 20% across-the-board increase ultimatum appeared first on Guyana Times.

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