GTU turns down Govt’s 3-year offer of salary increases from 2024 – VP Jagdeo

The content originally appeared on: INews Guyana
PPP General Secretary Dr Bharrat Jagdeo

Vice President Dr Bharrat Jagdeo on Thursday disclosed that the Guyana Teachers Union (GTU) has walked away from a three-year proposal submitted by the Government for salary increases from 2024 onwards.

On Tuesday, GTU abandoned negotiation talks with the Education Ministry. The two sides had agreed last week to recommence negotiations on the union’s proposed multi-year agreement covering the period 2019 to 2023. However, GTU President Mark Lyte said on Tuesday that talks have collapsed after the ministry refused to discuss salaries for 2019 to 2023, and only wanted to deal with increases for 2024.

Government has already said it is unfair for the GTU to request pay hikes for years when teachers were at home during the COVID-19 pandemic; those years are from 2020 to 2022; and that the budget cannot accommodate a retroactive increase that spans several years.

These positions have been reiterated by VP Jagdeo during a press conference on Thursday at the Office of the President, where he added that an alternative proposal was offered to the GTU.

“We were unprepared to do a multi-year (agreement) going forward, but we conceded that we will now offer the teachers or the GTU a multi-year agreement. We said to them that we can’t go retroactive, but we’re prepared to sign a three-year agreement from beginning 2024, and you have one to two weeks to go back and come up with what you would like to see in the multi-year proposal, and we would start the negotiations. [But] they walked out,” the Vice President noted.

Jagdeo pointed out that the 25 per cent retroactive increase being demanded by the GTU is unacceptable. In addition to the 25 per cent pay hike, the GTU also wants Government to address a two per cent increase from 2017 and 2018.

Jagdeo has argued that while Government wants to see an end to this ongoing dispute, it is unreasonable to expect the PPP/C Administration to address matters that should have been dealt with by the then APNU/AFC Coalition regime.

“To go back and ask for 25 per cent increase in the two years that we had COVID, it’s unacceptable… We want our teachers back in the classroom, we want our children to be taught, but we want to ensure that we also preserve the finances of this country in a manner that don’t harm us in the future. What the union wants cannot be accommodated by the fiscal framework, [and] it’s not right…So, if you reopen that for teachers, out of fairness, you have to ensure that every other category [of public servant] would get the same retroactive increase. It wouldn’t be fair otherwise, [and] we can’t sustain that in the budget,” VP Jagdeo contended.

Motive

Education Minister Priya Manickchand questioned on Wednesday whether it is reasonable to pay salary increases to teachers for 2020 to 2022 when they were at home. She has told reporters that she hopes good sense would prevail in the best interest of the country’s children, and has maintained that there was no breakdown in talks between the MoE and the GTU.

However, the GTU President insisted on Thursday that while the union is available for continued talks with Government, those negotiations have to cover the period outlined in the 2019 to 2023 multi-year proposal.

GTU President Mark Lyte

“We are willing to compromise on the years in the multi-year proposal. What that compromise will be is to be fleshed out over the table. The Government has to return to the table to say, ‘We want 2024 and beyond, but we hear you [on] 2019 to 2023’. Come and talk to us! Let’s have a compromise,” he said.

“The union is ready to accommodate those kinds of discussions, but we are not prepared to negotiate 2024 and beyond; that will not happen. Our position is resolute in that regard: the retroactive period has to be accommodated,” Lyte declared during a Facebook live on Thursday.

Verbal ultimatum

The GTU President also issued a verbal ultimatum that if the Government does not indicate before the end of the day that it would return to the table to discuss the 2019 to 2023 multi-year proposal, then the union would return to the streets.Last month, the GTU led a countrywide strike, which went on for more than five weeks, demanding better pay for teachers. With the Education Ministry maintaining that negotiations were still ongoing mere days before that industrial action was held, the strike has seen teachers not showing up for work.

The Ministry, for its part, had also ceased facilitating the GTU by deducting union dues from teachers’ salaries on behalf of the GTU. This resulted in the GTU moving to the courts to reverse the Ministry’s decisions in regard to both cutting the salaries of teachers who had been on strike since February 5 and ceasing the deduction of union dues.

High Court Justice Sandil Kissoon has granted Conservatory Orders for the Government to continue paying teachers and deducting the union dues until the legal proceedings have been determined.The court has also appointed two mediators to engage the Education Ministry and the GTU, which had led to the resumption of negotiations last week.After abandoning Tuesday’s meeting – the second engagement since resumption of talks – Lyte has indicated during his live broadcast that the GTU would return to the court, since it is believed that the mediation agreement has been breached.“We will go back to the court…and let the court adjudicate on the matter,” he has said.

However, with the GTU threatening to go back to the court, VP Jagdeo has said during Thursday’s press conference that Government would await that move to ascertain the way forward.

“I want to wait to see what their pleadings would be when they go back to the court…So, let’s see how it plays out in the court; but we’re trying to be fair…,” the Vice President has posited.