Schools across the country delayed opening this week to give the government and the National Teachers' Association extra time to resolve the issue. Teachers want a government promise last year to put salaries up according to experience, even though the Ministry of Education failed to factor the pay rises into its 2013 budget. The education department has submitted a Cabinet paper on the issue to the government, which met late yesterday to consider it, and today the teachers will meet with government .
Presenter: Geraldine Coutts
Sampson Faisi, President of the National Teachers Association
FAISI: They should have dealt with that last year, but the problem with the government, as well as the two ministries concerned, like the Ministry of Finance as well as the Ministry of Education. They failed to look into the handbook that was passed and Teachers service handbook that was passed on the 9th. February, 2012. It's supposed to be the responsibility to look into that booklet, and then implement what's retained, what is retained inside. But they failed to do that. Until the rest of the year, and I believe it was just part of the experience as well, because what surprises the union was that they've implemented the correct levels of those teachers who were and who passed out from the college last year. But it was those who taught for many years that they failed to implement their relevelling. So it takes them yeah, right.
COUTTS: Well, there are a number of issues in it aren't there. We'll just see if we can get some of the details of it. There was a promise to give the more successful or the more experienced teachers some pay rises, but not the newer or lesser experienced teachers. Was that acceptable to the Teachers Association?
FAISI: Eh, in fact, what I was trying to say here was it those new teachers who just came out from maybe the University of Goroka or USP or Solomon Islands College of Higher Education. They were correctly put under that new relevelling scheme, that started last year. But it was those who taught more than two and upwards, I mean so many years. They were the ones who left out from the restructuring. So that was what SINTA were waiting for, that they must be put in the correct level as well, just like those probationist who have begun teaching career last year.
COUTTS: Alright. Now, the other point that is to be considered here is that even if the government did agree to the increases, they didn't allow for it in the budget, so they couldn't pay them anyway?
FAISI: Exactly, that's what, that's the other problem that they came up with, but the stand that SINTA National Union's taking. It is not our responsibility. It's the government's responsibility to look for money and to do payment wherever possible. If they can easily give into their own I mean parliamentary demands in a very short time, why not teachers. That's the problem that we had with our government here. They really go for their own interests first, rather than doing things for like genuine demands like what the teachers says. The jump on just towards the end of last year. Our intention was almost $20 million for, we don't know for what purposes. It doesn't take them that long to give $20 million for parliamentarians to take that with them to the Christmas break and New Year.
COUTTS: How long is it since the teachers have had a pay rise?
FAISI: After, after, after 2000, after the ethnic tension, the government agreed with all the unions that and there will be a cease of salaries for five years. So that five year period already lapsed maybe in 2007 and now teachers and all the public servants should now have a pay rise, a pay increase. But still the unions who didn't press our, the government for that. Maybe soon we will take that on board as well. What we are now fighting for is the restructuring to be able to be in line with other public servants and then we can fight for or we can demand again for salary increase later on.
COUTTS: Well, you've got a meeting with the government this morning. What are the specifics of your requests that you'll put to them in that meeting?
FAISI: Well, prior to the Cabinet meeting yesterday, I put to the Permanent Secretary, that I told him that whatever decisions that the Cabinet makes, it must be written in black and white and we don't accept verbal reports as get from the Ministry in the past two meetings that we have already had with the teacher. We requested...
COUTTS: How much are you asking for? How much of a pay rise are you asking for?
FAISI: Well, it's from the latest figure now that Cabinet and the Ministry of Finance gave it's $38 million.
COUTTS: Now, are you threatening to go on strike if you don't get what your demanding?
FAISI: Yes, well last, our last meeting, Friday on the 18th. last week, the resolution that was passed and we sent it to all the responsible ministries and those that are concerned. The teachers can only go back to school, all teachers can go and restart the academic year for this year once their arrears from 2012 is paid in full. So we are talking about our our $18 million last year and then another $18 million maybe for this year. But we are not so worried about this yet, because we're here, it's started. We are concerned about the arrears for last year and that is what the government must pay in full, not half or quarter, we don't accept that. And if they respond to our demand that we will here from the ES this morning, if they said they're going to postpone the arrears until later date. I don't think the teachers will agree on that and most probably will go on a nationwide strike.
COUTTS: Well, you're effectively on strike, aren't you, because you've already delayed the start of the school year by a week?
FAISI: In fact, it was the government who delayed this for another week, so we just take that delay for granted and we continue on with the negotiation that we had with them for the past two weeks. In fact, it was already decided by the Ministry of Education, that they will extend this from last week to this week and then classes should start next week. So the union felt that it's no use giving out the strike notice when the classes are still empty. We would like any strike notice, it is to have an impact. We would like to have children in the class and then if the government doesn't respond positively to our demand of restructuring as well as with back payment of the arrears, then
we believe it will have effect on the whole nation and the government will feel the pinch of this.