Teachers take the fight to Jones
Classes at Government-run schools are likely to be disrupted tomorrow, as the umbrella Barbados Union of Teachers (BUT) has summoned the island’s teachers to a meeting in Queen’s Park, The City.
It’s the latest development in the ongoing impasse between the unionized teachers and the Ministry of Education.
The BUT has been demanding an urgent audience with Minister of Education Ronald Jones to discuss a number of pressing problems, including the topical issue of violence in schools.
However, Jones has turned down the union’s request, saying his ministry has been engaged in ongoing dialogue with the teachers.
And while the teachers had promised that no action would be taken to disrupt today’s Common Entrance examination, BUT President Pedro Shepherd had served notice since last week that his union, which represents some 2,000 teachers who are employed at Government run nurseries and primary and secondary schools, was prepared to stage industrial action from Wednesday until the current term ends in June, unless Jones agrees to give teachers their requested hearing.
“As we said last week, once the Common Entrance is over we would resume our action to get the Ministry of Education, the minister in particular, to meet with teachers,” explained Shepherd when contacted this evening by Barbados TODAY.
He said teachers were scheduled to meet tomorrow morning at 9 a.m. at Queen’s Park, adding, “Once they are through they would go to school.
“We communicated with them [the Ministry of Education] this morning re our meeting tomorrow and we got a response subsequently to that, reminding us that a meeting during school time is considered industrial action. We are still meeting; that does not phase us,” Shepherd said.
Asked whether the union was also sticking to its call for the minister to resign, he said: “Nothing has changed to make us change
Barbados TODAY attempted today to get a comment from Jones, who was in Parliament, on the matter.
However, the minister said he was not prepared to address any matters pertaining to the row with teachers at the time.
However, the matter came up for discussion during yesterday’s Labour Day celebrations hosted by the Barbados Workers Union and attended by Prime Minister Freundel Stuart.
During the annual May Day rally on Brownes Beach, BWU General Secretary Toni Moore made more than a passing reference to the teachers’ impasse.
In a fiery presentation, the general secretary condemned the various bodies of management that, she charged, sought to tread on the rights of workers, and, with Prime Minister Freundel Stuart sitting directly behind her, launched an attack on Jones for his response to the BUT’s request.
Contending that “elements of the oligarchy remain entrenched in our political system”, Moore said there could be no comfort, “when a minister of Government can declare his aversion and refusal to meet with a union body, if such a demand was made for an audience with him”.
She added, “If you don’t go to the people, if you don’t engage and take the people into your confidence, and then you reject the people when they come to you, you shouldn’t bother trying to serve because the people should be of the mind to reject you at the polls.”
Moore also issued a warning to politicians across the parliamentary divide that such behaviour from elected representatives was unacceptable.
“Newsflash for all those members of Government and the Opposition who share that kind of philosophy, that kind of thinking. A change is gonna come to your thinking, or you better find yourself in some other vocation, because serving the people requires that you engage the people,” she said.
During that rally, the Barbados Secondary Teachers Union (BSTU) also said it would remain relentless in what it sees as defence of the island’s teachers.
BSTU Vice President Erskine Padmore spoke against a backdrop of allegations of violence against teachers in schools, the Ministry of Education’s resistance to a union call that a student be expelled for allegedly assaulting a teacher, and the outstanding issue of teachers being asked to mark Caribbean Examinations Council’s School-based Assessment of students without additional pay.
“The BSTU remains relentless in its pursuit to rid schools, our place of work, of violence or threats of violence, especially committed against teachers, and we will continue to do so even if the public, the press or the politicians do not rush to our defence,” he said.
He told the large gathering, which also included President of the Employers’ Confederation Tony Walcott, “when violence is meted out to the teacher, or the student, the relationship is fractured and it then becomes awkward for factions to share a similar space”.
He pointed a finger at Ministry of Education officials, implying that they were not doing their job effectively.
“We maintain and remind however that the provision of a safe and healthy workplace is the duty of the employer and therefore the Ministry of Education has a responsibility to teachers too as workers.”
He described this responsibility as providing, “a safe working environment in which we can perform our duties free from threats to our persons”.
Regarding the issue of the marking of SBAs, which has been simmering for years, Padmore said: “In this sector we also feel a sense of exploitation of the teacher as a worker, when we are told of the work of a regional organization, packed as a school-based exercise is part of the duty and responsibility of the teacher.
“Essentially we are being mortgaged to third parties, affecting our terms and conditions of service, and with no discussion or negotiations with the teachers’ unions. The teachers’ unions cannot be disregarded in determining duty and obligation.”
He indicated that violence and marking SBAs without pay were just a few of the many issues facing teachers.
“Teachers unions battle daily the plethora of problems that confront schools and education: sick school plants and unhealthy working environments; appointments in the service; the unclear and sometimes unsystematic appointment process of school administrators,” he told the gathering.