Teachers protest in front of President’s office
Strike for better wages…Union unlikely to meet for conciliation talks todayBy Rupadai Seenaraine, Andrew Carmichael and Utamu BelleThe Guyana Teachers’ Union (GTU) has announced that it is highly unlikely the Union will be able to engage the Education Ministry today for pending discussions requested by the Department of Labour on the requested salary increases for some 7000 teachers.Teachers picket in front of the Ministry of the Presidency (Dexter Ceres photo)This was the position shared by GTU President Mark Lyte who told media operatives on Monday that due to the Union’s General Councils meeting, they will have to reschedule to a later date.He shared these remarks amid a protest by teachers at the entrance of the Ministry of the Presidency on Vlissengen Road, Georgetown, to voice their disappointment with the Education Ministry and the Government at large, calling for their 40 per cent increase in wages. Lyte further indicated that the soonest day in which they will be available for a meeting is Friday.“We received an invitation for the conciliation meeting but the GTU has a long planned General Councils meeting. We will be responding as it relates to our availability. We will have to ask for a reschedule of the meeting, probably by Friday.”A group of teachers outside the Linden Department of EducationHe noted that the Ministry had been scheduling such meetings on days when activities are already planned by the Union. Additionally, the notices are sent out hours before the event. In this case, the General Councils meeting was planned during the last academic term and teachers will be travelling from all regions to attend.Last Friday, a meeting was planned by the Department of Labour so as to engage the Union on discussions for the increase. However, representatives from the GTU did not attend. Lyte justified the Union’s absence, noting that short notice was given which coincides with other activities which were planned.When asked if the Union is trying to boycott engagements that are set by the Labour Department, the GTU President responded, “if invitation is given and it clashes with a planned activity that we have, obviously we will not be able to attend. Our General Councils would meet once per term so it’s not something that we can push back,” said Lyte.Teachers outside the Berbice High School on MondayAt that time, over 60 teachers and GTU officials were carrying placards as they recited slogans for the 40 per cent increase. This, they said, was a promise made by the Government after the task force would have suggested a 40 per cent increase for the teachers.“The recommendation that was made by the task force is what we’re asking for. The recommendation was the 40 per cent. It is not teachers coming out here and coming up with the idea that we want 40 per cent. The Government wants something from the teachers; better performance, we also want a package from the Government,” said Stacy Benjamin.While some teachers bargained for their rights and reasons for the increase, others threatened that a mass protest could emerge from these pickets if the Ministry does not meet their demands.Issues that were raised included poor utility services at their respective schools, along with the absence of a stipend to be spent to upkeep the classrooms. According to them, monies are being taken out of their pockets to purchase items and educational aids for students.GTU’s Chairman Kerwin Mars explained that the Union is under the impression the Education Ministry does not want to resolve the issue. “I know that the Union is prepared to talk and to come up with reasonable solutions to end this thing. I see the Government not wanting to do that,” Mars said.So far, the GTU has rejected the Government’s request for a debunching payoff of $200 million for 2018 to 2019. They have also rejected the $700 million that was placed for the increases for 2018 only.While the Government wants the yearly clothing allowance to remain at $8000, many teachers revealed that they have not received any such allowances since 2015. The GTU is maintaining however, that they want an increase of 40 per cent.BerbiceMeanwhile, teachers in Berbice, Region Six (East Berbice-Corentyne) say they will not back down from their strike action until Government gives them what they deserve. On Monday, the teachers picketed outside the Berbice High School where Education Minister Nicolette Henry was meeting with parents.Chanting, “No money, no wuk” and “Teachers are important”, the teachers gathered and demonstrated.At Fort Wellington, teachers protested in front of the Department of Education with a similar demonstration. Region Six GTU General Council representative, Paul Burnett, said teachers are the foundation of Guyana and they will ensure that their voices are heard.“We are teachers and we are very import and we are the foundation of Guyana and without education, our country would not be what it is today (Monday), and teachers must be applauded for that,” Burnett said.Burnett added that teachers in Berbice are frustrated and tired of waiting for more than three years on the Education Ministry to come up with a tangible package for teachers.Burnett noted that on Monday, some teachers turned up at the Department of Education in New Amsterdam and officials there refused to accept the keys for the respective schools.However, some head teachers had reported that on Friday, they took keys belonging to their school to the Department of Education and the keys were accepted.At the meeting at the Berbice High School, the Education Minister informed parents of what is the Government’s position as it relates to teachers’ salary increases and as she met with them inside, the teachers protested outside.According to Burnette, the protesting teachers were hoping that the Minister would have met with them but she did not.LindenIn Linden, the situation was no different as teachers from across Region 10 (Upper Demerara-Berbice) joined the strike action; a protest in support of calls by the GTU for an increase in salaries and other benefits was held in front of the Department of Education in the region.Holding placards, the teachers marched from Central Mackenzie, thence to the vicinity of the Regional Department of Education and unto the Mackenzie bandstand as they sang “solidarity forever”. Regional GTU General Council representative, Ferdinand McLeod, who was part of the protest action continued calls in support of the salary increase and debunching monies on behalf of teachers.McLeod said the protesting teachers were merely voicing their opinions and are willing to continue until desired results are obtained. “It’s not that we don’t want to work. We work all the time. We mould everybody. Why is it they don’t have respect for us?” he continued.