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…but warns that protest will continue if vaccine requirement not reversed, financial obligation not met
By Svetlana Marshall
Guyana Teachers’ Union (GTU), during a virtual meeting attended by more one thousand teachers, extended an olive branch to the Ministry of Education, with its President Mark Lyte expressing a willingness to meet to discuss the issues affecting teachers. However, he warned that failure to reverse the COVID-19 vaccination requirement and meet financial obligations would result in continued protest action.
Under the slogan “Boots on the ground,” hundreds of teachers on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday last protested the new COVID-19 Emergency Measures, which require all citizens including teachers to show proof of vaccination or negative PCR tests to gain access public buildings including schools. The teachers also protested the ministry over its failure to meet a number of financial agreements signed in 2018.
During Sunday’s meeting, Lyte said though it’s almost a week since teachers have been protesting the draconian measures implemented by Government, the Education Ministry has shown no indication that it is willing to resolve the issues facing teachers.
“Though our teachers and my officers stood in front of the Ministry of Education for the last three days, we have not had any engagement in working out a plan on the way forward coming from the Ministry of Education and that is disrespectful – that says how much we are valued [and] it is sending a very strong message that our struggle is of no concern to them, that they are unconcerned about what is owed to us; that they are unconcerned about teachers being locked out, that they are unconcerned about the struggle we are facing with high cost of living,” the GTU President reasoned.
He said while cost of living has skyrocketed, teachers’ salaries have remained stagnant. He said despite condemnation, the Union is prepared to meet with the Education Ministry in the interest of teachers.
“We remain open for discussion; we remain open for an active solution to this issue with the Ministry of Education. Should the Ministry of Education engage us on the way forward, our officers and I are willing to be part of any discussion, to be part of any plan to bring some closure to the outstanding finances and this mandatory vaccine,” Lyte assured.
GTU General Secretary, Coretta McDonald, MP echoed similar sentiments, noting that the conditions outlined in the agreement signed between the Government and the Union in late 2018 must be met.
“We are not unreasonable; if they decide to talk with us then we can work with them to [create] a schedule with regards to how the payments will flow,” McDonald said.
She, however, condemned a statement issued by the Education Ministry, which described teachers as “uncaring” and “unconscionable.”
“If tomorrow they decide that Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, they are going to schedule payments for teachers, and they are going to lift that restriction then we gone back into school and we have been saying that over and over,” the GTU General Secretary said.
Both McDonald and Lyte, however, made it clear that failure by the Education Ministry to meet the demands of the Union will see the protest continuing on Tuesday, September 14, 2021.
“Our fight is justified; our struggle is justified. We have been owed for years. Our teachers, who are in the wrong scale of payment have been owed for years. There isn’t money to address the teachers’ concerns, but there is money to address other concerns,” Lyte said.
He applauded the unvaccinated and vaccinate teachers who stood on the protest line last week, and called for increased support this week. He said teachers should guard against attempts by the Education Ministry to divide the vaccinated against the unvaccinated. “If one teacher cannot go into the school everyone must stand in solidarity,” Lyte said while calling for a unified approach.
He also rubbished claims that teachers, who are not a part of the protest, will be blocked from scholarships and duty free concessions. Lyte assured that the selection process for scholarships is fair and is based on teachers’ qualification, experience and other criteria.
The GTU President reminded that teachers across the country worked throughout the pandemic to ensure that children were taught virtually, and well prepared for their exams, in the case of Grade Six, CSEC and CAPE students.