(GUYANA CHRONICLE) — It will cost the treasury over $4B to meet the Guyana Teachers’ Union (GTU) demands for a 40 per cent and incremental five per cent salary increases, the Education Ministry has revealed.
Having stated that it is not able to meet this figure and coupled with a nationwide strike branding the resumption of school in the country, the ministry says that it has about 2,500 educators in its database to be deployed as a Plan B.
This latter initiative forms a part of the government’s contingency plan which kicked into action on Monday, when hundreds of teachers from all across the country took up industrial action in demand of salary increases.
At a news conference on Monday evening, comprising of Minister of Education Nicolette Henry and Chief Education Officer Marcel Hutson, the team revealed that there was no new figure to be put forward to the union, although stating that they are still in talks with the Ministry of Finance to find other areas of funding.
“We have not been able to have that information as yet from the Ministry of Finance in terms of the additional funding that they were tasked to seek at this point in time, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Education Adele Clarke updated.
The ministry had initially put forward a ballpark figure of $700M for salary increases and $200 million to address de-bunching while President David Granger on Friday said that the government is currently looking for additional funds to increase the amount.
In the meanwhile, the ministry is still working to assess the schools in need of the “temporary teachers” with the help of the Regional Education Officers (REDOs). Those in the contingency plan include persons awaiting their applications to be processed; trainees from the Cyril Potter College of Education (CPCE); retired teachers and volunteers.
Just last week the Education Ministry, in keeping with the plan, had rolled out advertisements in the media seeking substitute teachers to serve schools in the Georgetown education district.
The ads required interested persons to contact the Department of Educatio(DoE) by September 4, 2018 to which 32 persons have since responded. At the press conference, Hutson stated that the requirements for all being recruited included CXC passes, while persons who are retired teachers would have previous qualifications.
Hutson also stated that the payment of volunteers now rendering service is not out of the picture.
When asked about the number within the contingency plan in contrast to the number of teachers on strike and how this affects the education system, Huston responded: “This is a work in process…rather than not doing anything with our children while persons are staying away from the classrooms, it is incumbent upon us, and it is incumbent upon anybody who wants to see an education sector progress to do something. And, so there are a number of applications that keep coming in but, like I said, it’s a work in progress….it’s not something that the government will fix immediately but I think we are on our way to bringing some kind of relief to our children who are really depending upon us.”
He made the remarks even as he vouched that the teachers being been placed at the various schools are competent to do the job, while the current circumstances will not affect the regular operations of the CPCE.
Minister Henry said that the government will continue to add substitute teachers to different regions based on the need for such.
Speaking on the relations between the ministry and the GTU, she stated that having exhausted the negotiation phase of the collective bargaining agreement, they are now at the conciliation stage.
This, she explained, requires parties to meet with a third party, identified as the Ministry of Labour, which is to serve as mediator.
However, the GTU has since stated that it has lost faith in the conciliation process as the labour ministry and other labour officials have compromised their position, having all represented the Education ministry at previous negotiation meetings.
“We’re now waiting on the Ministry of Social Protection to call both parties…the Ministry of Education’s position is that both parties, we look at their proposal and bring that for discussion at the conciliation phase but we have not been able to get an agreement on that,” Henry said, adding: “Due process is required and when going through these procedures we don’t have an opportunity to cherry pick which stage we go through. We have to go through stage by stage and exhaust each stage before we arrive at the other stage. That is the procedure by which we’re guided.”
With the GTU recently suggesting that it would be willing to negotiate below its initial 40 per cent, Henry said that is it only through the discussions in adherence to the bargaining agreement that the government can consider new offers.
However, she added that given the urgency and importance of the matter, it is expected that the parties involved will soon facilitate the resumption of dialogue on the matter. At the same time, she relayed that the ministry is working to keep schools open even as it encourages students to return to schools daily as the government works with parents, REOs and other officers to facilitate the contingency plan.
Speaking to how long the ministry will be able to continue the contingency plan, Henry responded: “Once you’re operating under a situation that is not normal and one that creates a lot of additional tasking it is going to put a strain on the system, but it is our responsibility to ensure that our children are in the classrooms.”