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—says time for collective bargaining and as Education Minister assures that teachers’ voices will be heard
Successive Governments have refused to engage the Guyana Teachers’ Union (GTU) in “collective bargaining” and instead, have resorted to delay tactics and empty promises, GTU’s President Mark Lyte said during the opening ceremony of the 2nd Triennial Delegates Conference, but Education Minister, Priya Manickchand has assured that the voices of teachers will not find resistance in the Ministry of Education.
“The previous and current governments have repeatedly utilised delayed tactics, refused to acknowledge correspondences on final matters, or sought to make empty promises to teachers through side meetings and discussions,” the GTU President said in his address at Bertram Hamilton Auditorium, GTU Headquarters on April 20.
The last Memorandum of Agreement between GTU and the Government of Guyana was signed in 2018. Though the agreement remains enforced in some parts, Lyte said there was no salary increase for teachers in 2020. Following widespread consultations, a new multi-year proposal has been drafted, but that document currently sits on the desks of the Senior Minister of Finance in the Office of the President, Dr. Ashni Singh; Minister of Labour, Joseph Hamilton and Minister of Education, Priya Manickchand with no clear indication when negotiations will commence.
Through their union, the teachers are calling for an across-the-board increase in salary ranging from 25% to 20%; a debunching agreement; a performance-based incentive of2% per annum of the total Teachers’ Wage Bill; monthly emotional allowance and maintenance allowance for vehicles.
The union is also proposing an increase in remuneration for teachers who have improved their qualifications, increase in the annual clothing allowance, the granting of Whitely Council leave every three years, increased scholarships for teachers and duty-free concessions for Headteachers, Deputies, Heads of Department and Senior Masters/Mistresses, and Central Executive Officers among other benefits.
“We have been available to engage this Government since they took office to commence negotiations,” Lyte told the conference of educators. But despite the challenges faced with collective bargaining, the GTU President said the Union’s relationship with the Education Ministry remains cordial and professional.
“As a stakeholder in the education delivery to the Guyanese populace, GTU is committed to ensuring regular meetings are held, and decisions are taken…Presently, we are engaged in discussions on timetabling for primary schools, new appraisal instruments, and outstanding financial matters,” he explained.
Equity in education
Lyte said GTU will continue to advocate for equity in education, safeguard the interest of teachers and support the interest of members of the community.
He said there must be continued collaboration with all stakeholders in the education sector towards the smooth implementation of policies.
“We must consult more often and dialogue more diligently and sincerely. There must be a partnership between GTU and MOE to ensure that policies are effectively implemented at all levels of education. The management of some School Boards remains a serious concern to the Guyana Teachers’ Union. Some boards are counterproductive to the delivery of quality education in Guyana,” Lyte said.
He added: “Headteachers and teachers continue to report breaches in the operation of some School Boards. Some boards have no idea what their mandate is and therefore function outside of their authority.”
As such, he submitted that School Boards should be dissolved, except for Presidents College, which is the only school with a legal Instrument to operate as such.
Further, he recommended that all matters pertaining to teachers’ welfare be reverted to the Teaching Service Commission (TSC), however, the Commission has not been reconstituted.
“The non-installation of a teaching service commission has affected thousands of teachers from being appointed to senior positions. Many of those affected will retire without being allowed to gain that last promotion. One senior promotion was done during the Triennium by both Teaching Service Commission and School Board Secretariat,” Lyte explained.
GTU has written President Irfaan Ali on the matter, but there has been no response.
“The GTU is concerned over the new practice adopted by MoE, where the list for junior vacancies is accompanied by new applications, mostly of family, friends, and associates of MoE officials. This practice has disenfranchised hundreds of potential teachers whose applications remain a statistic in that database of TSC,” he added.
The union is urging that this “new” practice be discontinued, and that there be a system of fairness.
Meanwhile, the Education Minister, in her address, assured teachers that their concerns will not fall on deaf ears or be met with resistance.
“Your voice will not find resistance in the Ministry of Education, where it is practical, where it sensible and where it is impartial. That voice must be the amalgamation and reflection of the highly diverse and sometimes contrasting ideas and desires of our teaching force,” Minister Manickchand assured.
However, she said it is vital for the Union to remain balanced, unbiased and the ultimate defender of the rights of all teachers.
Minister Manickchand said that the Union must stay resolute in its desire to be the impartial intermediary that teachers need and deserve, and must resist being easily swayed by the objectives and agendas of desperate groups within society.
Further, the Education Minister reiterated the Ministry’s commitment to work hand-in-hand with the Union to advance the overall standing of teachers.
To date, over 2,500 teachers have benefited from scholarships through the Guyana Online Academy of Learning (GOAL), and are now pursuing degrees, masters, PhDs and postgraduate programmes.
Minister Manickchand explained that due to COVID and the physical closure of the Cyril Potter College of Education, teacher training was expanded and offered online which increased the intake at the College from the traditional 535 to now enrolling 3000 new students due to offering training online.
She said the aim is to have 100 per cent of the teachers in the education system be trained.
Moreover, she said that the Ministry and the Union must work in partnership and meet each other earnestly and objectively with a singular mission of securing a better future for the children of Guyana. To that end, she said that both parties must develop a stronger alliance that fosters greater social dialogue to facilitate the voices of teachers being fully and continuously heard.
She said that this partnership must ensure that teachers receive access to professional development opportunities that align with the needs of educators and that policies must be devised to advance the empowerment of teachers and their professional practice.