Pres Ali maintains teachers’ strike political as GTU threatens total shutdown of education system

President Dr. Irfaan Ali is maintaining that the nationwide teachers’ strike being called by the Guyana Teachers Union (GTU) is political. He reiterated this position during his address to scores of residents of Batavia in Region Seven (Cuyuni/Mazaruni) on Thursday.
Teachers resumed their strike on Thursday, but this time around, there will be no protest involving placards outside Government buildings. Instead, those participating in the strike are reportedly staying at home until further notification from the union.

President Dr Irfaan Ali addressing residents of Batavia Village in Region Seven (Cuyuni/Mazaruni) on Thursday

This is according to GTU General Secretary Coretta McDonald, who was unable to report the magnitude of support the union has received from teachers nationwide.
However, in light of this development, President Ali has posited that, over the last year, his administration has seen an increase in cases in which the views and opinions of unions and associations have been hijacked by the political opposition. Notwithstanding,
he made it known that the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) Government would continue working at the national and policy levels to improve the welfare and well-being of teachers.
He also maintained that Government, through the Education Ministry, is prepared to negotiate a multi-year agreement that begins in 2024 and goes beyond.
“We have to follow and understand the basis through which these organizations are operating, and we have to appreciate that many times these organizations carry a political view, and that political view has been consistently against the People’s Progressive Party Civic Government,” he said.
“Everything that we do is to enhance their livelihoods, enhance conditions and enhance services that will give you a holistic and total appreciation for the investments that we are making,” the President added.
The Guyana Teachers’ Union has said, “There will be a total shutdown of the education sector until the demands of teachers are met”.
According to McDonald, the strike action is aimed at negotiating better payment, improved working conditions, and increased benefits for teachers; and is not targeted against learners.
“We are either getting 2019-to-2023, or we are not taking anything else. Because starting from 2024 will bring us to what the CEO (Chief Education Officer) was telling us the other day about the figure he had to offer us, a single-digit figure which I’m sure was not even nine percent. So, don’t let them tell us that they are prepared to talk from 2024 and onwards,” she declared.
“As teachers, the stand that we are taking here is not a stand against any of our learners, it is not a stand against any of our parents; we have no troubles with them…we have a struggle and a fight with the Government of the day,” she declared.
At the moment, it is unknown how many teachers have participated in this current strike, and how this issue is being addressed by the Ministry of Education, and by extension the Government.
On Wednesday, Chief Education Officer (CEO) Saddam Hussain reassured that measures would be put in place to deal with teachers’ absenteeism in schools, but the specifics have not been disclosed.

Resumption of strike
The resumption of strike action by the teachers has resulted from a breakdown of talks between the GTU and the Education Ministry. Teachers returned to the classroom on March 6, following more than five weeks of protest; but, more decisively, following an agreement struck by the GTU and MoE after the intervention of Justice Sandil Kissoon, who appointed Senior Counsel Edward Luckhoo and Robin Stoby as mediators following the deadlock.
It was decided that, within 48 hours of the agreement, both sides would return to the table to discuss the requests of the GTU, as well as those of the MoE, but talks have again failed.
Government, through the Ministry of Education, has made it clear that it stands ready to engage the Union on the Multi-Year Agreement from 2024 onwards, but the GTU is holding out that talks should take effect from 2019 to 2024.
When the first strike had ended, the Union and the Government began engaging in discussions on issues affecting teachers. In a telephone interview with this publication on Tuesday, McDonald disclosed that the decision to resume the strike is because the union believes nothing is forthcoming from the Government as it relates to collective bargaining.
The Government has already addressed over 20 issues affecting teachers, aimed at improving their working conditions and overall welfare. In fact, at the time of the last strike, President Dr Irfaan Ali had reminded that he had already met with teachers across the country and outlined the Government’s plan to improve their livelihoods.
Moreover, Vice President Dr Bharrat Jagdeo had calculated that at the end of the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Government’s first term in office, graduate teachers would have benefited from salary increases amounting to nearly 50 per cent.