BUT could step up action if ministry fails to give positive response
The Ministry of Education has instructed striking teachers at the Parkinson and Alma Parris Memorial Secondary schools to get back to their classrooms, warning they could face “consequences” for improperly withdrawing their labour.
The order came even as the Barbados Union of Teachers (BUT) warned that the educators’ industrial action could escalate if there is “no positive or reasonable response” to correspondence sent to the ministry today.
BUT president Pedro Shepherd made the union’s position clear following a meeting with the teachers at the union’s headquarters at Merryhill, Welches, St Michael this morning.
Hours later, the ministry issued a statement strongly condemning the teachers’ decision to stay away from the classrooms for the second straight day to protest the failure of Parkinson principal Jeff Broomes to address choas and indiscipline at the Pine, St Michael institution, including students taking weapons to school last week and setting fire to paper in a classroom, and similar security issues at the Alma Parris Memorial Secondary School.
It said it considered the BUT holding meetings during working hours as industrial action at schools “where no dispute exists between the union and the ministry”.
“The ministry . . . urges all teachers of Alma Parris Memorial and Parkinson Memorial to return to work immediately, as the ministry considers the action taken as not in keeping with sound industrial relations practices which have evolved in this country for over 50 years,” it said,.
“This withdrawal of labour is tantamount to a strike. As a result, like any strike/withdrawal of labour, which fails to follow the proper industrial relations practice, there are consequences of which the employee should be aware.”
The ministry said neither the executive of the BUT nor the administration at Parkinson Memorial School drew its attention to any issues related to discipline or safety of students, teachers, other staff members or members of the public who access the school.
“ . . . Neither have they indicated that any teacher has been injured or threatened by students. It is highly irregular for the union to take industrial action without referring to the ministry on any issue which affects the schools,” it added.
The ministry insisted that teachers were part of the disciplinary structure of the school system and, as such, must cooperate in order to manage student discipline.
When contacted after the statement was issued, Shepherd told Barbados TODAY he could not comment since he had not received any communication from the ministry.
However, he had said earlier in the day that the union sent off correspondence to the ministry informing that “teachers will be declaring a dispute and that they will remain off the job for the remainder of the week”.
“We are expecting them to respond to us positively. Failing a positive or reasonable response then the action can be escalated, but that is left open for the time being,” Shepherd said.
Reacting to Broomes’ display of a large cache of weapons which the principal had been keeping in a drawer, the BUT head said: “Whether or not principal of Parkinson School Jeff Broomes knew about the incident last week, the quantity of weapons in that drawer suggests that the teachers are legitimate in their fear for their safety.”
“How long did it take Broomes to accumulate such a large number of weapons? If those weapons were collected since 2013 when Broomes assumed office at Parkinson there is need for serious concern by the Ministry of Education and parents,” he added.
“Teachers should not be condemned without cause because if they did not care for the students they would not be searching any of them to confiscate weapons. I would hope that Broomes explains to his employers, the board of management, and the staff as well how he got the weapons. He should explain how long it took him to collect the weapons and why the teachers were not made aware of such a serious problem.”
The union boss also disputed claims made by Broomes that he was not at school when the weapons were found last week.
“There is documentation which would reveal that Broomes was on the compound at the time of the incident. There are reports which the students wrote and parents were summoned to the school to verify that the knives met a particular description,” he charged.
Stressing that he only became aware of the latest incident yesterday, Broomes said he did his investigations and the two boys involved “totally disputed they had any weapons and nobody told me they saw anything”.
“The year head and I will continue the investigations,” the principal said.
Broomes insisted, however, that weapons were also found at other educational institutions in Barbados.
“There is no school in Barbados where there are no weapons. There are weapons in every secondary school in Barbados. Therefore, we can pretend as much as we want. Parkinson Secondary School is located in the Pine, St Michael, and that means something too. I do not know if Barbadians realize that or not,” he said.
“My position is that principals and teachers have to be vigilant and do what we can.”
Asked to comment on the impact of today’s continued strike action on the school, the veteran educator reported that 31 teachers turned up for work today, one more than yesterday.
“I am not stressing myself over the strike action. I will try my best with the teachers who turned up for work. I will use the student leaders to assist in the supervision of the student body,” he said.
Meanwhile, pointing out that two days into strike action he was still in the dark over the reason for the protest, principal of the Alma Parris Memorial Secondary School Valdez Francis said:
“The union never sent anything to me. Some of the teachers are still not at school. I cannot give you the numbers because I do not have the documentation from the union. I do not know if the Ministry of Education has proper documentation.”