Union denies ministry offered extra $60M
By Kim Lucas
Stabroek News
November 29, 2002

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The Guyana Teachers’ Union (GTU) yesterday denied claims by the Education Ministry that $60M was offered to boost some teachers’ salaries this year in addition to the 5% pay increase.

Salary negotiations between the union and government broke down on Wednesday morning and, later that day, GTU President, Sydney Murdock told Stabroek News that the union was rejecting the 5% offer. A little later, the Education Ministry issued a press release stating that the government had also offered $60M to deal with persons qualified to be teachers, but who are comparatively badly paid.

But at a press conference in the union’s Woolford Avenue hall, Murdock told reporters, “an offer of five percent was made, period. At no time in our discussion was there any offer of five percent across the board and $60M.”

But when questioned on the issue, Murdock could not state how such an offer would have affected the union’s position.

“We would have discussed it and we would have tried...We are a reasonable union and we would have tried to work our way around it, but that was never done,” Murdock said. Education Ministry officials could not be reached yesterday afternoon to respond to this statement.

Murdock maintained that the union did not know definitively that that was the Ministry’s position since the Education Ministry has not written the union.

“I do not work with information carried in the newspaper. We have not been written to.”

The union was pushing for the lowest paid teachers to receive, at least, a salary comparable to the minimum wage being earned by traditional public servants, as well as a 15% across-the-board increase for all other teachers.

With the recent 5% hike, the lowest paid public servants will receive around $21,000.

This proposal was rejected by the Education Ministry. The ministry’s position, among other things, was that wages and salaries should be based upon the national income but that the government is prepared to deal incrementally with situations where qualified persons are disadvantaged.

The Ministry has since proposed, in part, that starting in 2002, salaries should be based on the rate of inflation and the growth of the economy and that efforts should be made to bring teacher salaries within 80 percent of that paid for similar qualifications in the general private sector.

Murdock reiterated that nothing but the 5% was offered and the ministry was still not saying what it was prepared to offer teachers. “It was not until the union’s delegations stood up and were leaving the meeting [that] the Minister of Education said the Ministry of Education is prepared to offer teachers an increase of 5% across the board. We immediately signalled our intention to the Ministry of Education to move to...conciliation.”

Conciliation talks are expected to begin next Tuesday and if that does not bear fruit, the next step is arbitration. The last time the government and union moved to arbitration over teachers’ pay was in 1999.

In response to the union’s signal for conciliation, the Education Ministry on Wednesday expressed the hope that this is done in sufficient time to allow teachers to receive their additional pay for the holiday season.

On this note, Murdock cautioned teachers not to be carried away by the need for extra cash during the festive season.

“Too often our workers are caught in the trap where the festive season influences their better judgment and in the end, they sometimes lose. We are aware it is difficult out there. We are also aware that a number of teachers, like workers in the other sectors, might want to say take the five percent and let’s run with it. However, come January/ February, those very workers will be coming back to the union asking us what we are doing about salaries? So we are saying to them, let them be patient. And if we stand together, we will prevail,” Murdock said.

GTU’s immediate past President, Lancelot Baptiste further emphasised the union’s main concern by pointing out there are some teachers who are receiving less pay than the janitors at their respective schools.

“One of our main concerns is the 3,000 plus teachers who are at present working for below the public service minimum wage. In 2000 [and 2001], they were below that minimum wage. Right now, without the increase of the 5% being put to the public servants’ minimum wage, our lowest paid teacher is below that public servant’s minimum wage by about $3,000 plus. Our lowest paid teacher is getting $17,381...If the GTU were to accept the five percent across the board for all workers [then] our teachers will still be receiving below what the sweeper/cleaner in their schools are right now receiving...and that, to our mind, does not augur well for the delivery of proper [and quality] education by our teachers,” Baptiste stressed.

Since the talks between the Education Ministry and the union broke down, the GTU has sought the intervention of President Bharrat Jagdeo.

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