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‘Gun to head’ – Manickchand surprised at GTU’s ‘unreasonable’ 20% pay request

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Education Minister Priya Manickchand has regarded as unacceptable and unreasonable a request by the Guyana Teachers’ Union (GTU) for an interim 20 per cent across-the-board payment to be made to all teachers before it calls off the ongoing strike and engages in conciliation talks with education officials.

Though surprising, the Minister likened the request which was made on Tuesday to putting a gun to an employer’s head but rejected the tactics she said were designed and intended to derail the process.

“Nowhere in the world would anyone allow a gun to be held to an employer’s head before that [conciliation] process [commences],” the Education Minister said.

Notwithstanding, Manickchand, who spoke at a press conference on Wednesday, said the GTU still has time to ensure that the well-intended process is successful but noted that education officials will not engage under duress.

“No way in the world negotiations are held under duress. A 20 per cent payment before any talks is duress… This is unacceptable and unreasonable and will result in a breakdown of the talks.

“It is clear the teacher’s welfare is not paramount for the union” Manickchand said as she insisted that the union’s actions were part of a larger political scheme to keep teachers out of the classroom.

That disruption, she reasoned, was leading to learning losses for students.

In fact, Manickchand said the union’s decision to publicise the details of the discussions over the last two days was in breach of an oral agreement that urges confidentiality to ensure trust.

So, the Minister sought to set the record straight.

While there was still some impasse on the years for collective bargaining, Manickchand said significant progress was made on Monday with both sides compromising.

For instance, the Education Minister said the government wanted resumption of work within 24 hours while the union insisted on 72 hours. So a compromise was reached for 48 hours.

Though the government believes that the salaries of striking teachers should be deducted, it agreed not to make any teacher suffer for their participation.

The contentious issues at the end of Monday were the timeframe for the conciliation talks and a request by the union for the terms of the agreement to be subject to proceedings before a court of competent jurisdiction.

The two sides had hoped that the two issues would be finalised on Tuesday.

“We were at a place where everyone was comfortable to sign the agreement, we were just working out what words to use and everyone was very, very reasonable,” Manickchand said.

But the surprise came on Tuesday when the union requested the 20 per cent payout and demanded the recusal of the Minister of Labour, Joseph Hamilton, from the negotiations process.

“We were prepared to give a lot and as soon as the union saw us reaching a place where this could happen… They whipped out a document and put it on the table to ensure it can’t happen.

“They know fully well we can’t pay this 20 percent tip or hold on to teachers,” Manickchand reasoned.

To this end, she concluded that the union seemed to have no interest in engaging in conciliation to resolve the issues as is provided in the decades-old grievance agreement.

As per that same 1990 agreement, Manickchand said the union is wrong if they think they can make conciliation fail and jump to arbitration.

“There is still space for the union to return to the table on Monday as agreed and come back to a reasonable space,” Manickchand said as she left the door open for continued talks.

Even though the planned meeting on Monday between the two sides at the Ministry of Labour is in limbo, Manickchand used the press conference to outline over 40 interventions made for teachers since 2020 which included adjustments to salaries and allowances.

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