Education minister questions GTU’s demand for teachers’ pay hike during COVID period

Education minister questions GTU’s demand  for teachers’ pay hike during COVID period

GTU teachers discuss retroactive pay raise issue with the Ministry of Education.


GEORGETOWN, Guyana--Education Minister Priya Manickchand has called for good sense to prevail as she questioned the fairness of teachers getting salary increases for the 2020-2022 period when they were at home during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Speaking for the first time on the ongoing dispute between the Education Ministry and the Guyana Teachers’ Union (GTU), Minister Manickchand told reporters that her ministry has been negotiating with the union in good faith, but questions the unreasonable demands being made for salary increases during the years when teachers were home.

“The union is asking for significant percentage increases for year 2020, for year 2021, for year 2022. So, let’s forget the negotiations so far. Schools were closed in March 2020 and opened in April 2022, because of COVID … Different countries in this world reduced the pay of teachers in their country or stopped it completely because teachers were home.

“I know my teachers in this country were home and either 1) concerned or 2) still trying to deliver education. And this government – the PPP/C government – refused to even entertain docking teachers’ pay; refused to cut it, stop it, dock it and we continued to pay teachers during that period … Do you think it is reasonable to get a 20% increase for year 2020, year 2021, year 2022 or any increase at all?” the education minister asked.

The Guyana government has said the 2024 budget does not have the fiscal space to accommodate the retroactive payment of salaries for teachers for the period 2019-2023.

In fact, during his weekly programme “Issues in the News”, Attorney General and Legal Affairs Minister Anil Nandlall contended that the government was willing to discuss salary increases with the GTU but it has to be from 2024 going forward. He explained that the budgetary cycle did not allow for salary increases dating back several years.

“The reason is more commonsensical than anything else. The government operates in a budgetary cycle. What is past is past. The government has no budgetary resources to increase wages for years that are bygone. The government can negotiate in good faith in relation to future increases.

“How can you ask a government in 2024 to negotiate wage increases for years prior to 2024, and more importantly, when the teachers have already benefited from [public servants’ – Ed.] salary increases for those years, which they have already accepted unreservedly?” the Attorney General asked.

Following more than four weeks of strike action and the High Court’s intervention, the Education Ministry and the GTU agreed last week to recommence talks on the union’s proposed multi-year agreement covering the period 2019-2023.

However, GTU President Mark Lyte said the talks on Tuesday collapsed after the Ministry refused to discuss salaries for 2019-2023 and only wanted to talk about increases for 2024. At a subsequent press conference, Lyte explained that last week it was agreed by the government’s chief negotiator, Chief Education Officer (CEO) Saddam Hussain, that the discussions would be premised on negotiations for 2019-2023.

But Education Ministry Permanent Secretary Shannielle Hoosein-Outar joined the negotiations on Tuesday and asked the union to put together a multi-year proposal for 2024 and beyond. As a result, the union staged a walkout of the meeting and has further hinted that there could be a resumption of strike and court actions.

Good sense

Manickchand, however, told reporters on Wednesday that there was no breakdown in the talks between the two sides.

“I don’t know that the talks broke down. What I know is that the union had put forward their proposal for discussion, the ministry put forward theirs, the parties went off and came back, and one of the proposals was answered and the union left. And so, no date was set so far for another meeting,” Manickchand stated.

The agreement, according to the minister, was to discuss the matter and this was done. Nevertheless, the education minister said she hoped that good sense would prevail in the best interest of the country’s children.

“I was very careful not to get involved in the back and forth, and not to be baited into irresponsible answers … I expect and I hope good sense can prevail in all of this, and at the end of the day, we remember that our paramount duty is to these children who are before us … Anyone who’s staying true to their duty must consider, even in the face of requests and demands for more, how those requests and demands and the actions to express those are affecting our children. We must pay attention to that,” Minister Manickchand stated.

Last month, the GTU led strike action that went on for nearly five weeks, demanding better pay for teachers. ~ iNews Guyana ~

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