Letter: Guyana Teacher’s Union vs Government Salary Negotiations – By Harry Hergash

Dear Editor,

It is disheartening to note the Government’s approach to the salaries negotiation with the Guyana Teachers’ Union (GTU) which has been ongoing since 2016 and has now  resulted in  a countrywide strike by teachers. Undoubtedly, teaching is one of the most critical jobs in a country. It is one that is very stressful and extremely demanding, requiring many hours of a teacher’s personal time outside of the regular school hours. I believe that the GTU’s  request for a livable wage for teachers is justified and Government’s stalling in resolving this matter seems callous and uncaring.            

Government’s explanation that the country’s economy cannot support the GTU’s demand is untenable. Soon after assuming power in 2015, despite claiming that the economy was in ruins, the APNU-AFC Government awarded hefty salary increase to the President, Prime Minister, Government Ministers, Members of Parliament, etc. and expended millions of dollars on the development of Durban Park as the venue for Guyana’s fiftieth anniversary celebrations, now a deteriorating white elephant. The National Park  could have been used at minimal cost.

In an article captioned “Trinidad, with an economy 8 times Guyana’s, pays PM less” ( Kaieteur News, October 14, 2015), Abena Rockcliffe wrote “… after assuming office the government announced that economic constraints prevented a significant raise for the masses. Nevertheless, economic constraints did not prevent the hike in the salaries of government ministers”. The article notes “Trinidad and Tobago (TT), which has an economy eight times that of Guyana’s, pays its Prime Minister less than what is now given to Guyana’s new Prime Minister. Also, the salaries given to other TT Ministers are relatively in the same ball park of that which is given to those in Guyana…. Further, Trinidad has an economy of US$24.6B while Guyana is struggling with a US $3.2B economy.”

For easy reference, I have taken the liberty of reorganizing in tabular form below, the comparative annual salaries between Guyana and Trinidad & Tobago provided in Abena Rockcliffe’s article:

Position Guyana (GY$) Trinidad & Tobago (GY$)
Prime Minister $20,580,000.00 $18,000,000  (approx)
Cabinet Minister $10, 439,124 $ 12,000,000 (approx)
Junior/Non Cabinet Minister $ 8,346, 492 $ 10, 549, 452
Trained teacher $720,000.00 $  3, 133, 740

If we equate the 2015 salaries of the politicians to that of a trained teacher in each country, the results are as follows:

Salary of Guyana Trinidad & Tobago
Prime Minister 28.6 times salary of teacher 5.7 times salary of teacher
Cabinet Minister 14.5 times salary of  teacher 3.8 times salary of teacher
Junior/Non Cabinet Minister 11.6 times salary of teacher 3.4 times salary of teacher

Assuming that Abena Rockcliffe’s numbers are accurate (and I am not aware that these  were ever questioned), the above tables show how very well Government politicians in Guyana were paid in relation to a trained teacher in 2015. The situation is even more telling when one considers that the politicians’ salaries are tax free;  they are entitled to entertainment and housing allowances, and free meals at sittings of parliament. Also worth noting is that the duties of Guyana’s Prime Minister are far less onerous than those of the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago where the President’s role is ceremonial in comparison to Guyana which has an executive President. Currently, the teacher’s position in Guyana may be slightly better, though not significantly, than it was in 2015.

The handling of the negotiations with the GTU leads one to conclude that Government undervalues the role of teachers in the society. The importance of teachers is accurately reflected in the article “GTUC calls for full support for teachers in their wage struggle” (Stabroek News, August 26, 2018) which states “Teachers are the backbone of a country’s development. Their role is multifaceted and not confined to solely teaching and marking papers. Teachers also act as parent, mentor, custodian, counselor, provider (meals, school supplies, etc.) and a shoulder to cry on even as they have to meet their families’ psychosocial and economic needs… Teachers produce the artisans, nurses, police, doctors, teachers, journalists, public servants, private workers, businessmen/women etc. of tomorrow; the ministers of government and the future president are produced by the teachers.”

From my recollection, President Granger was once a teacher, though at the tertiary level. I hope he can empathize with the teachers and act promptly and effectively, as he did in relation to his ministers’ salary increases in 2015. Teachers, like ministers and members of parliament, deserve a livable wage so they can sustain themselves and their families with pride and dignity.

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Comments

  • Thompson  On September 3, 2018 at 6:32 pm

    G$720,000 (US$360) monthly for teachers, but talks of becoming the next Dubai and 750,000 barrels for a year exports?

    I went on a dinner date with my gf at the Marriott, and the cost was (equivalent) G$36,446+vat. The waitress joked how the bill was an entire month’s salary for her, so I felt bad for her and gave her a US$20 tip in cash and didn’t let anyone else see.

    How can the business elites and government of Guyana dream of Dubai skyscrapers and infrastructure, but pay the Guyanese very poor wages even when oil revenues will boost the economy by a significant number by 2025?!

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