Govt bows to pressure, seeking funding to pay teachers
Better wages strike As teachers gear up for next week’s planned countrywide strike, Government has bowed to pressure from a wide cross section of society and has announced that it is currently scouring its resources to come up with funding to fulfill the 40 per cent salary increase being demanded for teachers.President David GrangerThis was revealed by President David Granger on Friday during his first press conference for 2018. Addressing the issue, the Head of State said he believes the countrywide strike is premature, and he urged that there be full mediation and possibly arbitration before such extreme action is taken.“We feel that a strike is an extreme measure and it should only be applied as a last resort. Before we reach to the stage of a strike, there should be some form of mediation; and if mediation fails, we can go to arbitration. But I think it’s premature to speak of a strike at this stage [when] we are still, on the Government side, aiming at mediation. I do not believe mediation has failed,” he told reporters.The president’s comment comes one day after a third round of conciliation between the Education Ministry and the Guyana Teachers’ Union (GTU) on Thursday ended again in impasse, as both parties refuse to budge on their position.To this end, President Granger said that his Government is actively searching for fresh sources of funding to satisfy teachers’ need, as was done to payout redundant workers under the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) earlier this year.Teachers protesting for better wages outside the Ministry of the Presidency earlier this week“The Government has been trying to meet the teachers’ needs after several discussions at Cabinet and the high-level panel report. Money was found to augment the initial offer, and even as I speak, the Ministry of Social Protection, which has responsibility for labour and industrial relations, is in touch with the Ministry of Finance to see whether additional funds could be found from other Heads of Government expenditure in order to move closer to the goal of providing sufficient funds for the teachers,” he posited.Teachers are seeking increases of 40 per cent under a multi-year arrangement up to 2020. However, Government has maintained that it just cannot afford this proposal, offering a 2018-2019 pay off.The Head of State went on to explain during Friday’s press conference that while it is desirable to have a multi-year arrangement as being proposed, the immediate focus right now is to get the teachers to call off the strike and then enter into long term negotiations for that multi-year agreement.“I personally feel it’s desirable to have a multi-year agreement, but this is not the time now… Right now people are pre-occupied with almost day-to-day issues,” the President asserted.Government’s failure to come to an agreement with the GTU to date continues to build public outrage and worry as schools reopen in the new week. Moreover, the Coalition Administration has come under heavy criticism for not having teachers’ interest at heart, with many pointing to the fact that Cabinet Members give themselves a hefty 50% pay hike shortly after assuming office back in 2015, but cannot find monies to pay teachers to educate the country’s future work force.However, the Head of State defended Government’s salary increase, saying that it was felt prudent at that time to have a one-off review of ministerial salaries so that Ministers could focus on their duties and not worry about their income.“It was not as massive as some people thought. There were many public servants who were receiving salaries in excess of what the ministers were receiving… As far as I’m concerned, there is no regret. It was something, I think, that needed to be done early in the administration, and I think the ministers are able now better to pay attention to their ministerial functions without worrying about that issue,” he contended, while assuring that there will be no other salary increases for ministers.As teachers prepare to take to the streets on Monday, Government’s alternative plan is to substitute the teachers on strike with recent Cyril Potter College of Education graduates, trainees, and retired teachers. In fact, the Education Ministry has issued an “urgent” notice inviting substitute teachers for Georgetown.“Substitute teachers are urgently needed to serve at schools in the Georgetown Education District. Interested persons are asked to make contact with the Department of Education – Georgetown no later than Tuesday September 4, 2018 for more information,” the missive details.However, former CPCE lecturer and Mathematics teacher Tamashwar Boodhoo has stated that this move by Government could run against stipulations. “Someone has not done their homework and provide poor advice to this poor lady. Trainee teachers cannot take school registers. The law is clear you must be employed by the TSC (Teaching Service Commission) or the school board or the Ministry of Education in order to take attendance in school,” Boodhoo noted.He pointed out that a register is a legal document that can be used in the courts and that there are guidelines that govern the marking of attendance registers. He further claimed that trainee teachers are “not allowed to make daily log entries in the school log book”, adding that retired teachers are similarly prohibited, unless they are issued contracts.Boodhoo stressed that “there is nothing in the training manual” that allows for first-year trainee unsupervised practice in the classroom. “I am disappointed that the CPCE administration agrees to put the trainees in the classroom unsupervised. It was the same administration that had trainees repeat classroom practices because of unsupervised practicum,” he pointed out.