…walk out of salary talks with GovtBy Jarryl BryanThe two sides as they sat down for the meetingIn a new twist, an unsatisfied delegation from the Guyana Teachers Union (GTU) staged a walk out on officials of the Education Ministry during a meeting on Thursday to discuss a proposed multi-year agreement.Present at the meeting were Education Minister Nicolette Henry, Chief Education Officer Marcel Hutson and team, while the Union had its President, Mark Lyte; General Secretary Coretta McDonald and other union members.According to the Ministry in a statement after the meeting, the walkout was prompted by Minister Henry informing the Union that Government could only offer teachers the same increases it offered all public servants.GTU members as they walked out of the meeting with the Ministry“Teachers being public servants, therefore, will also benefit from the proposed wage increases,” the Ministry said. “Dissatisfied with the response, the GTU President decided that the meeting should not continue and together with his colleagues left the boardroom thereby leading to a premature end of the discourse.”According to the Ministry, the GTU had informed them it had no problem with the Government’s approach to non-financial issues, based on the last meeting the Union had with officials. The problems reportedly arose from the financial aspect of discussions which included salary increases, debunching, allowances and duty-free concessions.“What should be noted is the fact that even as the GTU President Mr Lyte stood up to truncate the meeting, all other members of the Union remained seated, including the General Secretary of the Union, Ms Coretta McDonald. McDonald suggested to Mr Lyte to sign the non-financial aspect of the agreement, but those pleas were not heeded.”“Following the meeting, Minister Henry reiterated that at this point in time, the Government of Guyana is proposing to all of its public servants, including teachers, increases which have been made public,” the Ministry noted.StrikeWhen contacted by Guyana Times, Lyte stated that the walkout resulted from the Government not addressing the Union’s substantive proposal. While noting that they remained open to talks with the Government, Lyte revealed that the Union would be commencing countrywide strike action from next week.“The talks were specific to proposals from the Union two and a half years ago. The Minister, in her chairing of the meeting, subsequently tried to treat with matters outside of the purpose of the meeting.”“Also, the Minister bluntly indicated during the five minutes or so the meeting lasted that the teachers would get the same that was offered (to) public servants, without even talking about what we proposed,” Lyte claimed, adding that the Government’s “imposition” would not be accepted this time around.That being said, Lyte stated that a countrywide strike was expected to commence by next Friday. This, according to the GTU President, is to allow enough time to ensure the membership is properly notified.“Even in that interim, we are still open for something definitive to be put before us in terms of our proposal. (But) I take having the Minister trying to sideline the discussion this afternoon as an indication that the Administration was not prepared to treat with the proposal put forward.”AgreementIt was only on Wednesday that Leader of the Opposition, Bharrat Jagdeo had thrown his support behind the GTU and called for Government to have a sitdown with the Union. The Union had recently threatened strike action over frustrated efforts to negotiate salary increases.Jagdeo had expressed his support for a new agreement and had lauded the previous agreement which he noted gave teachers a number of benefits. In light of this, Jagdeo had urged that the Government make meeting with the teachers a priority.“Teachers have been calling for two and a half years now to have another agreement similar to the five-year agreement that they had with us that had many benefits, for example money set aside for housing for teachers and duty-free concessions for teachers of certain categories. A lot of teachers are retiring now, and they can’t get the benefits there. So I would urge that the Government meet urgently with those teachers and continue to have the discussions surrounding an agreement that would look at all those benefits the teachers enjoyed,” he stated.FrustratedAt a press conference last week, Lyte had been critical of Government refusing to act on proposals for salary increases and benefits. In retaliation for this inaction, he had said the GTU would be calling out its members to engage in strike action.Lyte said that after more than two years, officials at the Education Ministry remain reluctant to have a sitdown with the Union and discuss debunching payments. He had noted that the teachers were becoming more frustrated by the day, and warned of the consequences if the teachers decided to down tools to make their voices heard.“Another budget would be presented, and we have not come to an agreement for the proposal. We believe that this is disrespectful and comes in direct contravention to the labour agreement (in effect) between the Ministry and the Union, and it is a clear fact that this Administration is not seeking to properly remunerate our teachers,” Lyte had said.The issues of concern to the Union include the stagnated negotiations between the GTU and the Education Ministry. The negotiations focused on, among other things, increased teachers’ remuneration and outstanding payments.Additionally, the Union had expressed concern about a memorandum that could see teachers having to work during their designated lunch period.