Education Ministry threatens salary deductions and other consequences for striking teachers

Education Ministry threatens salary deductions and other consequences for striking teachers

By Svetlana Marshall

Maintaining that the nationwide industrial action initiated by the Guyana Teachers’ Union is ‘illegal’, the Minister of Education, Priya Manickchand and Labour Minister, Joseph Hamilton, are warning teachers that there will be consequences for their strike action.

“The Government is the Government of law and order. The Government will do what is required to be done to make sure the system has order in it. We can’t allow people to walk off from teaching, we can’t allow people to stop teaching. We have children in these classrooms, they have to learn. They have to be taught, they are in exam classes, they have SBAs. We have children, who are depending on these teachers. So, there are rules about what you do, and how you do it. And we are advised by the Ministry of Labour, that this is not a lawful strike, and there are consequences,” the Education Minister said. 

At the time, Minister Manickchand was speaking alongside the Labour Minister during a live television programme broadcast on the state-owned National Communications Network (NCN). 

In a separate statement last evening, the Ministry of Education said it has accepted the opinion of the Ministry of Labour that it is illegal to pay teachers who do not report for duty without a legitimate reason.

While the Guyana Teachers’ Union has reported that thousands of teachers from across the country have started strike action, the Education Minister said based on a statistical analysis, most teachers turned out for work on Monday. 

Minister Manickchand also said the strike comes at a time when the Education Ministry and the Union remained locked in discussions on developments in the education sector. She said while the Government has no obligation to agree to the multi-year agreement proposed by GTU, it has already addressed 25 of the 41 issues proposed by the Union for the betterment of teachers. 

“We have met 25 of those demands, and 25 of their demands, and we have granted and done 28 other things, 28 other actions. Some personal, some professional, that are to the benefits. Of the ones that we didn’t do, two are for GTU Executives, they want duty free for themselves, not the teachers, and two are unlawful, and we are talking about the rest,” the Education Minister explained. 

According to Manickchand, just last Wednesday, Education Officials and the GTU sat at the negotiating table to hammer out the remaining issues. However, in an earlier interview with News Source, GTU President Mark Lyte said the meeting dealt with routine issues, and was not a negotiation on the multi-year agreement, which focusses largely on salaries, and non-salary benefits. 

The GTU wants teachers to receive a 25% salary increase for 2019, and a 20% increase on every other year from 2020 to 2023. The Education Minister is however, claiming that since 2020, teachers have seen their salaries increase by more than 20%.

“From 2020 to now, we have raised salaries for teachers by over 20% and then the president took some very innovative action. All graduate teachers – so the salary scale the way it is done – low, middle, high. Most of the graduate teachers were on the lower side, he said all of them automatically move to the high scale of that salary school. We had this problem where teachers were getting the wrong salary, he said no, we will fix all of that from 2020 to now So, people were backdated. Last year October, we fixed it and it cost us $700M to fix that,” Minister Manickchand explained. 

It was added that the Education Ministry is also providing teachers with a grant to assist them with the preparation of their classrooms. 

Weighing in on the issue, the Labour Minister said because the Education Ministry and the GTU are still in talks, the conditions of conciliation and arbitration have not been met, and as such, the strike by teachers is illegal. 

“The thing is, the fact that you still have an ongoing conversation between the two parties, there is no need for the Chief Labour Officer to get involved to conciliate. There is nothing to conciliate because there is a conversation and the partner is getting outcome out of the conversation,” he said. 

Mr. Hamilton said notwithstanding this, the union dispatched a letter to the Labour Ministry demanding arbitration, when the conditions for both have not been met. He said it is against that background that the Labour Ministry is holding firm to its position that the strike is illegal.

The GTU has indicated that the strike action will continue.

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