Teachers pay talks break down
Conciliation next step

Stabroek News
November 28, 2002

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Salary negotiations between the Guyana Teachers Union (GTU) and the Education Ministry broke down yesterday after government’s five per cent increase offer plus $60M for underpaid teachers was rejected.

As a result, the union has decided to seek conciliation, a move the Education Ministry says it hopes is done with sufficient time to allow teachers to receive their additional pay for the holiday season.

The ministry said yesterday it stands ready to work with the union to find an equitable solution to the current impasse, but GTU President, Sydney Murdock is maintaining that no teacher should receive less than the minimum wage being offered to workers in the traditional public service (around $21,000). He said the union was also pushing for all other teachers to get a 15 per cent, across-the-board increase.

The GTU had initially proposed a three-year agreement, which, in part, asked for a 50 per cent to 60 per cent increase in salaries for this year; and amounts for 2003 and 2004 that were based on the rate of inflation, the growth of the economy and government’s revenue collection.

“Our position was that having brought the teachers up to a level in 2002, for 2003 and 2004, we were prepared to base salary increases on the GDP and the rate of inflation. But this is dependent primarily on what we get in 2002,” Murdock stated during a brief interview with Stabroek News yesterday at the union’s headquarters in Woolford Avenue, Georgetown.

The rationale for this request by the GTU, according to the Education Ministry, was that the teachers’ case is special and they should be paid a living wage. The GTU’s contention was that teachers were disadvantaged by the 1999 public service arbitration award.

The GTU further contended that teachers in the Caribbean are paid substantially more and that Guyana’s overall spending on wages and salaries, as a percent of education expenditure, is among the lowest.

In response to those issues raised by the union, the Education Ministry is contending that while teachers are indeed special, many other categories of workers, for example, nurses and the police, are also making a special claim.

The ministry says while it accepts that government should always aim to pay a living wage, in the final analysis, wages and salaries must be based upon the national income.

“Teachers and the public servants covered by the PSC, are in different bargaining units and so negotiated outcomes can be different. However, the government is prepared to deal incrementally with (the) situation where qualified persons are disadvantaged,” the release stated.

The government’s position is that Guyana has a comparatively larger infrastructure deficit.

Therefore, a different balance has to be struck between recurrent (salaries) and capital spending.

“As a result, the [ministry proposed that] starting in 2002, salaries should be based on the rate of inflation and the growth of the economy; that efforts continue to be made to adjust the situation; [also] efforts [should] be made to bring teachers’ salaries within 80 percent of that paid for similar qualifications in the general private sector. [That] annual increments should be introduced based upon the growth factor of the above formula.”

It was against this backdrop that government offered the five percent increase across the board for all teachers, just as it did public servants in the traditional public service recently. In addition, the government is offering $60M to deal with persons qualified to be teachers, but who are comparatively badly paid.

“Based on our mandate from the General Council and the Executive Council, that is unacceptable. The collective bargaining agreement between the Education Ministry and the GTU states clearly that if talks break down at the negotiation stage, the next stage is conciliation,” Murdock said emphatically.

The breakdown in talks comes on the heels of the stalemate between the government and the Guyana Public Service Union over public service wages. The government has gone ahead and announced a five per cent payout for public servants after previously offering three per cent. (Kim Lucas)

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