Test­ing gov­ern­ment’s take-it-or-leave-it pay ne­go­ti­at­ing strat­egy

Stabroek News - - LETTERS -

By the time this editorial ap­pears in pub­lic we would most likely al­ready have been in pos­ses­sion of the out­comes of yes­ter­day’s meet­ing be­tween the Guyana Teach­ers’ Union (GTU) and Pres­i­dent David Granger, the in­vi­ta­tion to the Union to meet with the Pres­i­dent com­ing in the wake of its call to teach­ers coun­try­wide to with­draw their ser­vices to press its de­mand that gov­ern­ment treat frontally with its pro­pos­als for salary in­creases and other ben­e­fits.

The teach­ers’ union strike call was a de­par­ture from the tra­di­tional ac­qui­es­cence of pub­lic sec­tor unions to what, over the years, has been gov­ern­ment’s take-it-or-leave-it ‘pol­icy’ in ne­go­ti­at­ing wages and salaries with the GTU and the Guyana Pub­lic Ser­vice Union. (GPSU). The out­come of yes­ter­day’s dis­course be­tween the GTU and Pres­i­dent Granger could, there­fore, be­come a bench­mark, a turn­ing point, or oth­er­wise, in the col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing process, de­ter­min­ing whether, in the fu­ture, gov­ern­ment con­tin­ues to hold the cus­tom­ary take-it-or-leave-it line or whether it changes course, re­turn­ing ne­go­ti­a­tions to a more ortho­dox col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing process. That, it will be re­called, had been one of the coali­tion ad­min­is­tra­tion’s pre-elec­tions prom­ises.

Gov­ern­ment’s un­yield­ing pos­ture hav­ing long char­ac­ter­ized pay ne­go­ti­a­tions in the in­stances of both teach­ers and tra­di­tional pub­lic ser­vants, who knows whether we may not now be en­ter­ing a dif­fer­ent kind of in­dus­trial re­la­tions era, at least as far as the teach­ers are con­cerned. By him­self call­ing the lead­er­ship of the GTU back to the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble Pres­i­dent Granger may, per­haps, be sig­nal­ing, that his gov­ern­ment is un­pre­pared to deal with what­ever po­lit­i­cal fall­out might ac­crue from a teach­ers’ strike, how­ever, mod­est or oth­er­wise the re­sponse of the teach­ers may be.

On the other hand, If the talks be­tween the GTU and Pres­i­dent Granger fail to avert strike ac­tion (if the talks fail it is not un­likely that there could be a more pro­tracted work stop­page in schools across the coun­try than the GTU had orig­i­nally en­vis­aged) that could cre­ate a new in­dus­trial re­la­tions par­a­digm in which the re­ten­tion of gov­ern­ment’s cus­tom­ary take-it-or-leave-it pos­ture trig­gers more dis­rup­tive ac­tion on the part of the teach­ers’ union. The­o­ret­i­cally at least, the same could ap­ply in the in­stance of the GPSU though, up to last week­end, that union ap­peared to have set­tled in to its cus­tom­ary am­biva­lent pos­ture in re­sponse to the gov­ern­ment’s most re­cent pay in­crease of­fer.

What, it would ap­pear, has­tened the GTU to its strike call was the han­dling by Ed­u­ca­tion Min­ster Ni­co­lette Henry of the talks with the teach­ers’ union. It was her de­cid­edly in­del­i­cate as­ser­tion at her meet­ing with the union that re­sulted in the walk­out and trig­gered the strike call. It was a mis­cal­cu­la­tion that not only pointed to her lack of ex­pe­ri­ence in such mat­ters but also a mis­cal­cula-

tion that failed to take ac­count of an in­cre­men­tal mil­i­tancy which the GTU’s lead­er­ship has been demon­strat­ing in re­cent times. It ap­pears that they went to the meet­ing en­tirely pre­pared for the cus­tom­ary of­fi­cial brinkmanship that in­forms th­ese ne­go­ti­a­tions and may even have been pre­pared for Min­is­ter Henry’s faux pas. Frankly, in the mat­ter of the long-stand­ing, com­plex and con­tentious ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween union and gov­ern­ment on teach­ers’ pay and con­di­tions of ser­vice it was al­most cer­tainly a tac­ti­cal er­ror to leave gov­ern­ment’s en­gage­ment with the GTU mostly up to the new Min­is­ter of Ed­u­ca­tion whose back­ground knowl­edge of the is­sues and ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the in­dus­trial re­la­tions back­drop against which the ne­go­ti­a­tions had pre­vi­ously been tak­ing place would al­most cer­tainly have been lim­ited to a few brief­ings, at the most.

What­ever would have come out of yes­ter­day’s talks be­tween the GTU and Pres­i­dent Granger, the big­ger pic­ture has to do with how gov­ern­ment ne­go­ti­ates with pub­lic sec­tor unions in the fu­ture. The GTU would ap­pear to have taken the po­si­tion that if ne­go­ti­a­tions are to have any real mean­ing the first thing that it has to do is hold gov­ern­ment’s feet to the fire in­so­far as its com­mit­ment to honour­ing the prin­ci­ples of col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing in wages and salaries ne­go­ti­a­tions is con­cerned. In the in­stances of both the GTU and the GPSU that com­mit­ment ap­pears to have been set aside.

Once the GTU can se­cure any fur­ther gains from yes­ter­day’s meet­ing with Pres­i­dent Granger (and we must as­sume that his in­vi­ta­tion sug­gests that he is pre­pared to take the dis­course beyond where it stopped dur­ing the meet­ing with Min­is­ter Henry) that could well open up an en­tirely new dis­course on the de­sir­abil­ity of leav­ing be­hind the ac­cus­tomed take-it-or-leave-it ap­proach to pub­lic sec­tor ne­go­ti­a­tions. That should open a way for the GPSU which, for all the rant­ings about gov­ern­ment’s most re­cent pay of­fer in its me­dia re­lease last week, has still (as it cus­tom­ar­ily does) stopped well short of threat­en­ing strike ac­tion. The Union has even found a way of say­ing to its mem­bers that they should take what is on of­fer even as it con­tends that the of­fer is nowhere near good enough, a clear sign that it re­mains, up un­til now, a pris­oner of gov­ern­ment’s take-it-or-leave-it pol­icy.

Christ­mas time pay­outs of mea­gre in­creases have long been part of the of­fi­cial ‘ne­go­ti­at­ing strat­egy’ of gov­ern­ment. It is an in­sult to fair and hon­est ne­go­ti­a­tions and takes ad­van­tage of the dif­fi­cult cir­cum­stances in which pub­lic sec­tor work­ers find them­selves, and which has spawned a kind of half a loaf is bet­ter than none men­tal­ity that is de­cid­edly de­grad­ing and un­sus­tain­able in a twenty cen­tury union/man­age­ment ne­go­ti­at­ing set­ting.

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