Barbados: Union threatens to disrupt start of school

Barbados Today:-With just three days to go before the new school year begins, sparks are again flying between the Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union (BSTU) and Government  — this time over the termination of a teacher’s employment contract.

The matter involving an educator who was assigned to the St Michael School threatens to disrupt the start to the new school year with the BSTU already summoning its members to a meeting tomorrow morning to devise a response to the ministries of education and the civil service.

“The BSTU has scheduled a meeting, to which it is inviting all its members [teaching & non-teaching] on Friday, September 08, 2017 at 9:30 a.m., to take place at the Barbados Workers’ Union Solidarity House headquarters, during which time plans for action to cause the grievance to be heard will be consolidated,” BSTU president Mary Redman announced in a statement released to the media today.

“It is expected that the Ministry of Education will take notice of the serious intent of the BSTU, and do what is necessary to avoid escalated action upon the commencement of the 2017 – 2018 academic year,” Redman added.

With the contentious matter said to be left hanging for almost a year, the BSTU head complained that “senior officers of both ministries have been reneging on their statutory functions by a lack of adherence to legislation and regulations that dictate proper governance and operations of the service and a harmonious industrial relations climate”.

And even though the union would have previously flexed its muscles on the matter in the last academic year by staging a march and other protest action that caused major disruption to classes, Redman maintained that it has “exercised exemplary patience and goodwill in the face of profound disrespect and denial of the rights of its member”.

“The Ministry of the Civil Service held an informal information gathering meeting on 21st March, 2017 with the BSTU in preparation for the formal grievance process which was to have been rescheduled.

“A second date of 23rd May, 2017 was given, six months after the fact, to hear the grievance. This meeting was again cancelled because they claimed a lack of space in which to hold the meeting,” the statement said.

Redman further suggested that
Government was not interested in having the matter settled, and that efforts by the BSTU to have the grievance heard with the participation of the Ministry of Education were being frustrated.

In fact she said “both the Permanent Secretary and Deputy Permanent Secretary, to whom we have made innumerable phone calls in the last ten months, three already this week, have indicated that the Ministry of Education officials are not returning phone calls on the matter.

“The BSTU raised the matter at the level of CTUSAB at the last board meeting of 24 August, 2017 as well as at the Sub-Committee of the Social Partnership on 25 August, 2017 and asked that the Minister of Labour use her good office to exert influence towards getting the grievance heard,” she said.

Redman also revealed that Minister of Commerce Donville] Inniss, who was present at the meeting, had expressed  “horror” over the matter and “stated his concern that if the BSTU were forced to take action the fault would lie with the recalcitrance of the senior officers [in the Civil Service and the Ministry of Education]”.

It is the latest development in a seemingly dysfunctional relationship between this island’s teachers and Government.

Just yesterday, the president of the umbrella Barbados Union of Teachers (BUT) reacted with disgust to an announcement by Minister of Education Ronald Jones that five schools will not be ready in time for Monday’s opening of the new school year.

BUT President Pedro Shepherd accused the Ministry of Education of poor planning, while complaining that not only teachers kept in the dark until the 11th hour, but that some the infrastructural work had only started on the schools five weeks ago.

“This is the challenge that they had and I believe that they should have managed the time frame better,” Shepherd insisted.

However, the teachers’ spokesman said his members remained committed to doing all within their power to ensure a smooth September restart.