The nationwide strike by teachers picked up momentum this morning in the city, as a number of trade unionists, political party officials, along with civil society representatives and parents came out in support of the strike by teachers, while calling out the Government for its threats to slash the salaries of striking teachers.
Standing on the picket line today outside the Ministry of Education’s main office on Brickdam, General Secretary of the Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC), Lincoln Lewis, told reporters that the strike called by the Guyana Teachers’ Union (GTU) is “just”. He dismissed accusations by the Government that the strike is political.
The veteran trade unionist said the breakdown in talks between the GTU and the Education Ministry should have paved the way for conciliation. He said instead of acting as a conciliator, the Labour Ministry has taken a side.
“The Minister of Labour, he is very far from what his role ought to be. The Minister of Labour, in industrial disputes in any country becomes the chief conciliator. Rather than conciliate what this man has been doing is taking the side of the employers and attacking the trade union. I believe that one of the demands that ought to be made, is that this man be removed as the Minister of Labour. He needs to go,” Lewis said.
Turning his attention on the Minister of Education, Priya Manickchand, Mr. Lewis said while Manickchand has indicated that the Education Ministry has addressed more than 25 of the 41 issues identified by the Union for negotiation, it is not for Government to cherry pick the issues to be addressed. He said the substantive issue of salaries and non-salary benefits must be addressed at the negotiating table.
As a growing number of teachers chanted “give we, we pay, let we move from here,” Executive Member of the People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR), Dr. Gary Best said the Government has the financial resources to offer teachers an increase in salary now.
“As I said here in my placard that the Jagdeo Budget is a failure to teachers, it is a failure to the entire region, and the key thing is that President Ali has not identified his incompetence. So, we are saying, you could increase teachers’ pay now. You don’t have to wait for that. But in the wider scheme of things, the budget itself is what has gotten us in prison. It has locked us in a vertex. It is politicized. You have a sum of money in budget for salaries, no breakdown, no organization,” Best said.
According to Best, this year’s budget which was recently passed, was clearly designed to keep people in poverty, and to manage poverty, instead of bringing people out of poverty.
He warned that unless the government reduces income inequality, which is an issue for teachers, there will not be a stable society.
Opposition Member of Parliament, Dawn Hastings-Williams, who is also a teacher, said the demands of the nation’s teachers are just and reasonable, since they endure less than desirable conditions in schools.
“It is a nationwide strike, and it is all because teachers are asking for what they are entitled to, hard-working public servants, going to school day after day despite of different working conditions. You would have seen some of our schools are in a very bad state. Teachers have to be opening umbrellas, students in some cases, when rainfalls, and in spite of that our teachers are always going out to work to mould the nation children,” Hastings-Williams said.
Hastings-Williams explained that in the Hinterland communities, the cost of living is even higher, placing teachers in difficult positions many times.
Meanwhile, the incoming Parliamentary Representative for A New and United Guyana, Althia King also joined teachers on the picket line today and told reporters that the concerns of the teachers should be addressed immediately. She said she rejects the contention by the government that the strike is illegal.
“I think it is a very sad situation that our teachers, our educators, one of the most important sectors that we have, these are individuals who are responsible for educating us. We are where we are as a country, as persons in the positions we hold because of the educators. So, I feel for our main sector to be here today, is a very sad situation that their needs haven’t been met,” King said.
Owner and Publisher of the Kaieteur Newspaper, Glen Lall said it is unfortunate that Guyana is being dubbed as one of the richest countries in the world per capita, and its teachers have to protest for a decent salary.
“For a moment, look at the wealth this nation has, and look what teachers have to do, in the streets, standing up, protesting in this hot sun for a living wage. The amount of gold that is being stolen out of this country per month is more than enough to pay all the public servants, not only the teachers, the nurses, the soldiers, the police, every single public servant double salary,” he said.
He said billions more are being taken out the country through the Oil and Gas Industry, while teachers struggle to a livable salary.
Randolph Perreira, who was one of the many parents, who stood in solidarity with the teachers today, said the situation is overbearing and the government must heed the calls of teachers.
“I am out here because it is overbearing, and I feel the pain of people, and I am a human being and I know what it was to live through poverty, and teachers right now are living in poverty because of that salary. They are parents, they have responsibility like everybody, they have utility bills, they have children to send to school, and 6.5% is unreasonable. The only way 6.5%, I would have supported it, is if teachers were getting $250,000-$300,000 a month, I would have supported that but 6.5% is no good,” Perreira said.
Another parent told News Source that the non-action of the government on this issue, is unacceptable, as she lobbied for all the unions in the country, the religious community, the nurses, and other persons in society to stand in solidarity with the teachers.