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GTU must return to the conciliation process

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Dear Editor,
Education Minister Priya Manickchand launched a trenchant critique against the GTU, for issuing an ultimatum to resume strike action on May 16, 2024 and therefore halt the conciliation process provided for in the 1990 Avoidance and Settlement of Disputes Agreement.
“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.”
Minister Manickchand emphasizes that the request [for an interim payment of 20% across the board to teachers before conciliation proceeds] by the Union was not only unreasonable, but that the Government “would not sign off on the Union’s request, and would also not negotiate under duress.” The Education Minister further contends that GTU was setting a “very bad precedent, not only for the Guyana Government, but for governments across the region.” The Government is open to considering a multi-year contract effective from 2024.
The GTU has been emboldened by the High Court, which ruled that the GTU strike is legal, and that the Government must pay teachers for the days they were on strike, as well as requiring the Ministry of Education to continue deducting union dues on behalf of the union. Attorney General Anil Nandlall disagrees with Judge Sandil Kissoon’s ruling, and has filed an appeal on May 22, 2024.
What does the existing data tell us? First, why would any government favourably consider retroactive pay over 5 years (2019-2023), part of which was under a different administration, and when funds had already been exhausted in the respective national budgets? Oil money is not overflowing the public treasury. It is noted that 28.9% (US$1.586 billion) of oil revenues would fund several essential infrastructure projects in 2024. The estimated cost of the GTU demand for an interim 20% pay would be almost Gy$1 billion ($933.807 million). How feasible is this demand viewed against a projected 2024 budget deficit of US$1 billion?
Second, the monthly salary level across all scales ranges from $181,941 (Untrained Graduate) to $340,802 (Graduate HM 6th). However, when an untrained teacher graduates, the maximum of that scale is set at $224,908 (after a graduate allowance is included). A comparable situation applies to the Graduate HM 6th scale, which is set at $399,795.
The table illustrates the situation with other salary scales. What is significant is the sharp increase between 2022 and 2023, ranging from $42,967 (23.6%) to $58,933 (17.3%) across the scales.
Third, I have tapped into the rich experience of several teachers, who provided the following data to me. Teachers are entitled to 7 days of urgent private affairs leave and 3 days of manager’s sick leave, plus 28 days of medical sick leave. They are also eligible to apply for up to 3 months of special leave, to be granted by the Chief Education Officer. Furthermore, they are entitled to one month leave with pay every 4 years, in accordance with the Whitley Council provision. Teachers also are required to work for 39 weeks per year, and not 52 weeks, as do other categories of state workers. They also have access to GOAL scholarships (of which 3,386 teachers have already benefitted), not to mention access to subsidised housing, house lots, as well as duty-free allowances on motor vehicles, etc.
With these generous benefits and allowances, one wonders whether the GTU is acting in the best interest of teachers! Is GTU ignoring the concerns of parents and the needs of students? Concerns have been raised about the credibility of the GTU. If it is responsible and committed to transparency, why did it fail to submit annual reports to the Registrar of Deeds and Commercial Registries Authority since 2006, and to the Office of the Auditor General since 1989?
Finally, no class of workers is privileged to be treated differently from other classes. Covid-19 has taught us that all categories of workers are important. Let the evidence (facts) and not extraneous factors determine the outcome of negotiations. The GTU must return to the conciliation process!
Dr Tara Singh

The post GTU must return to the conciliation process appeared first on Guyana Times.

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