President of the Grenada Union of Teachers (GUT), Lydon Lewis has defended the decision taken by the body to accept an offer made by government on salary increases for the nation’s teachers.
The top echelon of the union called a press conference to react to hostile remarks made in Social Media about the collective agreement signed with the Keith Mitchell-led New National Party (NNP) Government on salary increases and fringe benefits for 2017-19.
“Sell out! Our union is a pack of jokers, I don’t think they realised what they did,” were among some of the messages posted on facebook.
Speaking to reporters at a press conference held at GUT Headquarters at Marine Villa in St. George’s on Tuesday, Lewis said that his membership was supportive of the agreement reached and those persons who reacted negatively on social media do not understand the negotiation process.
“We are well aware that not all of our teachers are happy, but these statements leave you to believe that the persons who are writing articles are not (knowledgeable) with the entire agreement that we have signed, and we would not, as a union, justify or give credence to persons hiding behind social media to attack what we believe to be… a good agreement,” he added.
He told reporters that GUT had several meetings throughout the island to update teachers on the progress of the negotiation and the conclusion, as well as provided members with the agreement reached, and did not meet any hostility over the package on the table.
He said the members proposed the articles enshrined in the collective agreement.
According to Lewis, the GUT negotiators would have agreed that for the next three years to a ten-percent increase in salary.
Both parties on December 29th 2016 agreed to three percent for 2017, another three percent for 2018, and four percent for 2019.
From the end of January all teachers would experience an upward movement in their salary.
It is expected that qualified teachers will get an increase of $105.00 per month on their salaries, some others it will be in the region of $90.00, in some cases it will be $70.00, and graduate teachers get in the region of $115.00 to $120.00.
The GUT Boss said this is the first time they have had forward-looking negotiation that captures the three-year period, and government does not have huge retroactive sums to pay to teachers anymore.
“So teachers are well aware of what their salaries will reflect in the next three years, so that by the end of 2018 we can enter into a negotiation period for the next three years, and we’re very happy that we’re able to come to that point,” he added.
With regards to the one-off payment of $1000.00, the GUT boss pointed out that the union believes that the economic gains that government said it made as a result of the Structural Adjustment Programme can be easily eroded, and as a result accepted it as “a gift.”
Those teachers who worked during the entire lifetime of SAP will receive $1,000, while those who served for three years will receive $750.00, and two years and less will get $500.00.
According to Lewis, it was also agreed that at the end of the SAP there will be consideration for further benefits for teachers.
“When we look at all the facets of the agreement, we’re comfortable where we’re at. Yes, we could have gotten more for the one-off payment, but this is not the only thing that we are looking at.
“Why hold out our members receiving three percent and argue over the one-off payment? Why prevent the 84 teachers from being permanently appointed to hold out over a one-off payment?
“Why hold out on our teachers in the incentive allowance, and our temporary teachers getting all the other benefits, holding out for a one-off payment for a period we know was a very difficult period in our history economically?
Lewis disclosed that for the first time the agreement has guaranteed having a clause that whatever the other public sector unions will receive based on their negotiation for financial benefit with government will also be added to that received by GUT.
“We are aware that other unions are still in negotiation (with government), and whatever they would receive in excess of what we have received, that will be applied to us as members of the GUT,” he said.
Lewis stated that the GUT decision to sign the agreement by themselves is not a breakaway from the two other public sector unions, as they have not negotiated together for a number of years.
However, he said GUT had proposed to the Public Workers Union (PWU) and the Grenada Technical and Allied Workers (TAWU) that they should jointly negotiate with the Keith Mitchell-led government but when the March 31st 2016 deadline was approaching to submit proposals for fringe benefits and there was no movement coming from either of the two other unions, the GUT Executive took the decision to go on its own.
PWU and TAWU have rejected the one-off payment offer of $1000.00 made by the administration.
Public sector unions had raised concerns previously with a $1000.00 monthly increase in salary for the Press Secretary of the Prime Minister that was announced in the 2016 budget.