Strike action illegal; reject GTU’s call – Education Ministry to teachers

The content originally appeared on: INews Guyana
Education Minister Priya Manickchand

The Education Ministry has issued an open call to headteachers and teachers across the country to reject calls by the Guyana Teachers’ Union (GTU) to stage strike action, saying it is an illegal move.

The GTU has planned strike action from February 5 to 16, 2024. In fact, the union has adopted scare tactics, threatening to fire teachers and block their promotions if they fail to participate in the strike. Already, Labour Minister Joseph Hamilton has said the GTU does not have the authority to take such actions against any teacher, and has also called the planned strike illegal – something which was reiterated by the Education Ministry in a public notice issued on Wednesday.

“The decision to strike is illegal, and goes contrary to the agreements signed by the MoE and GTU (10th April, 1990)… This threat of industrial action sets a bad precedent, since this is the final term before the NGSA (National Grade Six Assessment) and CSEC (Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate) exams. Any disruption to the teaching-learning process could affect individual children and their entire future, thereby hampering the ability of families to use education to exit poverty…

Consequently, I call on all head teachers and teachers to reject GTU’s call to strike,” Chief Education Officer Saddam Hussain said in the open letter to all headteachers and teachers.

In fact, the CEO pointed out that the Labour Ministry, as well as experts on the issue, have advised that conditions for strike action have not been met, hence any such industrial action would be wholly illegal and unlawful.

He believes the GTU has been unduly influenced by its General Secretary, Opposition Member of Parliament Coretta McDonald.

According to Hussain, this call for strike action is “quite unexplainable and incongruous”, considering the relationship between the Education Ministry and the GTU, who only met Wednesday morning in a pre-arranged engagement to address a number of issues. These include the payment of teachers who have completed GOAL programmes; the implementation of Circular 7 of 2023, which allows for an additional deputy head teacher; senior master/ mistress, and reduction in the workload of teachers; in addition to other issues which revolved around teachers’ condition of work.

Hussain noted that such engagements illustrate the Ministry’s commitment towards improving the lives of teachers.

Previously, the GTU had proposed 41 areas identified for better working conditions for teachers. Over the three years, the Education Ministry has fulfilled 25 of those requests, and of the 16 proposals remaining, two are specifically for the benefit only of GTU and its Executive Members, and two others are contrary to the laws of Guyana.

The areas in which the Ministry and the Union have not reached an agreement include: salary increases for some scales (MOE has gone above GTU’s request for some scales), allowances, rehired teachers paid at the scale that they retired at, housing fund (which the Union has repeatedly failed to give a way forward for although the fund has a few hundred million dollars put there by the Government), and salary scales for different HODS and Sixth Form Deputy Heads, payment for the marking of SBAs, and house lots for teachers in each new housing scheme.

Moreover, 12 unresolved issues are currently being examined for their practical implementation and sustainability. In fact, only two weeks ago, Education Minister Priya Manickchand tasked the Ministry’s Exams Division to consider the proposals and return with options in order for a stipend to be paid to teachers who manage SBAs.

“It is for these reasons that the threat of a strike is incomprehensible,” the Chief Education Officer has argued.

Reducing burdens

While he acknowledged the difficulties that teachers experience – many being non-financial issues, Hussain outlined that the Education Ministry has taken several actions to simplify the teaching process, while reducing the burdens of being a teacher – all of which are outside of the GTU’s requests.

Among these interventions are: the removal of the Child Development Index Card (CDIC) as a required school document; the removal of the General Scheme of Work as a curriculum document; the weekly preparation of lesson plans, rather than daily; all trained teachers being eligible to be a Senior Assistant Master/Mistress after six years, rather than seven years; 50 duty-free vehicles for teachers per year, PLUS the granting of a duty-free concession to all senior teachers who have three years left to serve and have not received a concession previously; all teachers being provided termly with grants to purchase teaching materials; and all Cyril Potter College of Education (CPCE) pre-service trainees being paid $90,000 rather than a $10000 stipend per month, except a trainee teacher refuses same.

In addition, the Education Ministry requested the Teaching Service Commission and the School Board Secretariat to do two senior promotion cycles per year, so that more teachers can be promoted and earn higher salaries. Other inventions include: a general waiver letter to allow teachers to travel abroad without collateral; the issuance of one waiver letter to cover the teacher’s contracted period; the holders of the Technical Teachers’ Certificate as being appointed as Assistant Master/Mistress; the creation of more senior vacancies in nursery, primary and secondary schools; the reduction in teaching periods for secondary teachers; the assignment of an assistant teacher to senior teachers in primary and nursery schools; the appointment of floating teachers to schools to reduce the workload and substitute for teachers who are absent; and the implementation of the EMIS system which would eliminate most aspects of manual record keeping

Moreover, an Open Day policy which is held centrally and regionally to address teachers’ concerns; the appointment and upgrade of all teachers who attended University of Guyana (UG) without official release and permission before, during and after the COVID-19 pandemic; a reduction in the number of teaching practice for CPCE teachers; the institution of a digitised senior promotion process; a simplification in the Teacher Upgrade Process after improved qualifications; the substitution of the head teachers’ monthly report with a reduced digital version; a waiver for the issuance of the permanent trained teachers’ certificate; the placement of guidance and counselling officers in secondary schools to assist with the disruptive behaviour of students; the continuous placement of a data entry clerk in each school to assist with digital record keeping; the removal of the quota system to attend UG; and the introduction of a Teacher Support Unit within the Education Ministry.

According to CEO Hussain, he is deeply saddened to see the educational community facing such unwarranted challenges.