Gov't in math mix-up over teachers pay
Still no disbursement

Stabroek News
January 3, 2003

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The government seems to be having trouble calculating the increases it has granted for teachers' salaries, a position President of the Guyana Teachers Union (GTU) Sydney Murdock finds amusing.

The disparity came over the last two weeks, with the Education Ministry first announcing a 5-15% increase for teachers. Then last Friday, Cabinet Secretary Dr. Roger Luncheon declared that a 5-10% increase had been approved.

In a release, dated December 17, the Education Ministry said junior teachers and teacher aides would receive a 15% increase; acting teachers, 11%; pupil teachers, temporary qualified and unqualified teachers, an 8% increase; and 5% for all other categories of educators.

But on Friday, Luncheon said approval had been given for the Ministry of Finance to pay increases between 5-10% for teachers, retroactive to January 1, this year. He was, at the time, speaking at his post-cabinet briefing at the Office of the President.

According to Luncheon, the 5% payment would be across-the-board, while further increases, in the order of 6 and 10%, respectively, have been approved for two categories of teachers - those who are untrained and whose wages and salaries remain below the minimum wage in the traditional public service in spite of the five percent increase. Repeated efforts to reach Permanent Secretary in the Education Ministry, Hydar Ally, for clarification proved futile.

When contacted, Murdock told Stabroek News that the union had not yet been formally told of any increases. He maintained that the union's position remains the same - it is not sanctioning any payout although the GTU would not stop teachers from accepting it.

The Education Ministry had also proposed to make the payout in time for the Christmas holidays, but Murdock said that his membership was still awaiting their money.

Wages and salaries talks between the union and the Education Ministry deadlocked at the end of November, prompting both parties to move to conciliation.

But those talks broke down three Mondays ago, prompting the union to indicate its intention to go to arbitration. But the Education Ministry is maintaining that the government is not prepared to settle the matter that way.

As such, the Ministry decided to grant the payouts, saying at the time, that that decision was made after the union refused to turn up for a meeting on December 19, called by the CLO.

But the union has denied ever being invited to that meeting and has written to Chief Labour Officer (CLO) Mohammed Akeel asking him to clear the air.

Akeel last Friday acknowledged receiving the letter, to which he promised to respond. According to the CLO, it was not that the GTU was not invited, but an officer from the Labour Ministry was supposed to have arranged the meeting. There was a mix up.

Akeel was due to receive, on Friday last, a written report explaining what caused the mix up, from the officer.

Murdock last week revealed that, based on subsequent discussions and, considering the state of the economy, the union had been prepared to go as low as a 10% increase.

"We did indicate this to the ministry [but] they rejected [it]...We now intend to pursue our original request for 50-60% because it is the union's intention to go to arbitration."

But Akeel said that based on the Collective Labour Agreement between the two parties, there is nothing more to pursue if the government refuses to go to arbitration. The agreement must be mutual, the CLO said. Akeel said that the Labour Department only acts as a facilitator in such matters.

Yesterday in a statement, the Working People's Alliance (WPA) deplored what it said was the high-handed action by the government. It said that the government's response in declaring that it was not prepared to settle the matter through arbitration offended good industrial relations practice.

"To add insult to injury, Cabinet announced the "settlement" without even the courtesy of informing the union with which the government was negotiating", the WPA said, noting that teachers must now choose between industrial action at the start of the new school term or to accept Cabinet's imposition.

The WPA said that despite information to the contrary, some teachers will be earning less than the minimum wage and all of the other issues included in the GTU's submissions on hinterland allowances etc have been ignored. Expressing solidarity with teachers, the WPA called on the government "to engage the teachers and their representatives in meaningful, honest and mutually respectful negotiations".

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