The Guyana Teachers’ Union has reported that thousands of teachers from across the country downed their teaching tools from this morning, as the union initiated a nationwide strike over the Government’s failure to engage in collective bargaining.
Outside of the Ministry of Education’s Head Office in Brickdam, Georgetown, several teachers gathered with parents and other supporters in protest. In parts of the other Regions, from Region One to Ten, similar protests took place.
Since 2020, the GTU has been pushing for an across-the-board increase in salaries for teachers as part of a multi-year agreement. The proposal covers the years 2020 to 2023.
Today, teachers told News Source that the 6.5% salary increase imposed on them, and the non-salary measures implemented by the Government so far, are insufficient.
Secondary School teacher, Atoya Shepherd said for too long, teachers have left themselves behind while assisting their students. Ms. Shepherd said teachers’ salaries have remained relatively low, while the price of food, and cost of living continue to skyrocket.
“You have all these bills. Yall watch them bills? GWI sent a bill, GPL, internet raise, everything on the rise. And guess what? When you hit the market, a lil piece of pumpkin – $700. Where we getting the money from? 6.5%? I spent that and I don’t even know where it went. I am still trying to wrap my head around it,” Shepherd told News Source.
Another, teacher, Shawndale Bascom said the increase offered to public servants, including teachers is totally insufficient.
“That is not sufficient; that is rubbish. It is rubbish. When they finish taking out their deductions, we have nothing left. If you have to pay rent, you have to travel, you have to pay for your children to go to school, you got buy groceries – how you living on that? That cannot work, and that is the reason we are out here, we deserve to get an adequate salary,” Bascom said.
Bascom said the Government must engage the union, warning that failure to do so would result in a continuation of the strike.
“We don’t care what the Ministry of Education say, they need to speak to our union. Come to the bargaining table, talk to the teachers and get this issue resolved. How long they don’t want to come to the table, well the strike will continue,” she said.
A Tucville Secondary School teacher said the treatment meted out to teachers is unfair, and unacceptable, noting that many teachers are struggling to get by on a daily basis.
“I am a bit upset because, as a teacher, going to the University of Guyana, the university is blocking your grades when you don’t pay up a certain amount of money. Now, two children, one is going to a high school that is demanding a lot of things, and I have to find money for her, and I have to find money for the smaller one, I have to find money for UG, and I can’t take care of myself, it is unfair,” she said.
Another teacher, Irwin Thomas, said the government must abide by the law.
“The law requires it. Simple, the law requires collective bargaining and that is the beginning and the end of the story. Follow the law,” he urged the government.
GTU’s President Mark Lyte warned that the strike could run for weeks, if the Education Ministry, and by extension the Government fail to engage in Collective Bargaining.
He said the Government has had more than enough time to consider the proposal put forward by the Union, and it is time for action.
“When the ministry is ready to talk, we are ready but our problem is that we have not seen any movement with regards to the financial matters,” Lyte told News Source, adding that that the 6.5% salary increase imposed on teachers last December is “ridiculous.” “It is a degression from what we collected in 2022 that was imposed. So, if you are going to be thinking about forward movement, why are you reducing the increase, rather than increasing,” he added.
Ahead of today’s industrial action, Minister of Education, Priya Manickchand, while warning that the strike is illegal, accused representatives of the union of seeking to achieve narrow political gains.
But both the President and the General Secretary of the Union rubbished that notion. Member of Parliament and General Secretary of the GTU, Coretta McDonald said the Vice President, Bharrat Jagdeo, while in Opposition in 2018, had supported a nationwide protest called by the union, saying that there was nothing political about the strike.
“He, himself said it was not political. He said that teachers’ issues are real issues, and their strike is legal. Bharrat Jagdeo went as far to say, that the coalition, the president then, Mr Granger, should cut spending on travel, cut spending on dietary and cut spending on the bond that they were renting and pay the teachers. Now, we have oil, and the Vice President now is saying, that teachers’ strike is political. Well, political or not, the teachers are out here, because they cannot carry a party’s card to a supermarket,” she recalled.
McDonald said the Union has been more than patient with the Government, and more than three years later, the Government has failed to engaged in meaningful dialogue with the union.
“This very government, when they were in opposition, spoke about collective bargaining and now they are here in government, they are refusing to talk with the teachers but they can talk with GAWU. When GAWU is hosting strikes, they are not saying it is political, and remember, GAWU, has its President, that is a MP in the People’s Progressive Party. But you know what, it is what it is. And I am happy that the parents and the teachers, who are out here with us, they understand that our struggle is real, and it is not political,” the General Secretary said.
The strike has resulted in a number of schools being forced to closed their doors. However, on its Facebook page, the Ministry of Education posted images of some schools in full session, and not being affected by the strike. (Svetlana Marshall)