Support for the thousands of teachers on strike continues to grow across the country, wth the Government offering no indication that it is prepared to meet with the Guyana Teachers’ Union (GTU) to begin salary negotiations at this time.
From Region One to Region Ten, teachers continued to stay away from their classes today, instead choosing to protest for better wages and salaries.
In Linden, hundreds of teachers marched through the main downtown area in the town in loud protest, gathering at the Education Department in the Region.
Once there, they were addressed by General Secretary of the Guyana Teachers’ Union, Coretta McDonald, who told them that they will not be letting up and will not be giving up the fight.
“I want you to understand teachers that we are the molders of the nation, we are the agents of change and we will change this situation. This is not about us only, this is about the teachers in training college and those who will come after us. And this change is also about our children”, McDonald said.
Back in Georgetown, hundreds of teachers with their supporters marched along Brickdam, demanding that the Government engages the union on the matters of salary increases and non-salary benefits.
Among those who stood in solidarity with the teachers former teacher and popular newspaper columnist GHK Lall, who told News Source that the Government should have made adequate provisions in the $1.146 trillion Budget to pay public servants a decent salary.
“We had to have, when we were constructing the budget, to have, put together those pieces that thought about the people, and about the people means, those people who are out here, our brothers and sisters, teachers, nurses, pensioners, policemen, soldiers – the poor of Guyana, who are looking at this massive oil patrimony, and saying, where is my little it,” Lall said.
He said the budget was passed with very little for public servants.
“I was a volunteer teacher for eight years when I first came back here, and I know the agony, the anguish of teachers, day in, day out, especially around the middle and the third weeks of the month, when they are waiting to get pay, they are unemptied. They are running on empty, and the cost of living was not that steep, and it was not that pressuring at that time. Prices have run away from all of us. I am a re-migrant and I can tell you about the impact of prices, and I shouldn’t…but the fact of the matter is, the people who work her, who work for virtual slave wages, need to get something more, teachers fall in that category,” Lall said.
Meanwhile, Attorney-at-Law and Chartered Accountant, Christopher Ram, who also stood on the picket line with the teachers, said by failing to engage the Teachers’ Union, the Government is acting in breach of the Labour Laws of the country. He said the demands of the teachers are just.
“It is not an unreasonable call at all. In fact, anything that is unreasonable is the government’s refusal to pay teachers, and indeed public servants generally, more realistic wage. I think it is an unconstitutional position that the government has taken, in relation to negotiating with unions, or in not negotiating with unions,” Ram told News Source.
While noting that the government has the resources to facilitate a salary increase, the Attorney said when one considers the national budget that was recently passed, it appears that the government does not regard the salaries of public servants in its list of priorities.
Opposition Parliamentarian Amanza Walton-Desir said the teachers are not being unreasonable in their demand.
“When you look at it, Guyana is paying somewhere around the fourth lowest salaries to teachers in the Caribbean, and our GDP growth, far outstrips the rest of the CARICOM countries. So, there are not being unreasonable in what they are asking for. What they are asking for they are entitled to, and the fact is, we have the fiscal space to do it,” MP Walton-Desir said.
The Opposition MP said the Government needs to do the right thing and address the concerns and demands of the teachers.
“I noticed that he (the Vice President) is talking about wage sustainability. We have shown how if you cut the wastage that is happening in the public infrastructure programme, you will have enough money to pay teachers, public servants a liveable wage, but what happens, is that Jagdeo does not want to cut spending on public infrastructure because that is how they engage in their corruption. And so, budget after budget, whilst he talks about the unsustainability of wages, you will see them having a bigger and bigger and bigger public infrastructure programme, and they are doing nothing to cut the wastage,” she said.
The Guyana Teachers Union plans to continue the strike action into next week