by Donna Sealy
President of the Barbados Union of Teachers, Pedro Shepherd, is doing his job the same way the Minister of Education is doing his.
Making it clear he was not going to be involved in a public discussion on the issue, he said it was his job the defend the members, who, like other public workers had the right to comfortable working conditions.
“Let me state for the record that it has never been and I don’t think it would ever be the business of the Barbados Union of Teachers to engage in any form of negativity … when it comes to education in Barbados.
“The BUT … was established in 1975 out of cause. The BUT is a registered organisation, registered trade union and it has a role to play. I am not going to get embroiled in any debate with the Minister of Education … who in an article today … lambasted the BUT over its recent, as he said, pervasive negativity and approach to matters affecting the BUT,” he told Barbados TODAY.
“I agree with Minister Jones that the country does not build itself on pervasive negativity and that it builds itself upon people being positive, focussed and people being interested in the country and I would wish the minister to also bear that in mind when he is making statements about a trade union which is so bold to say in the same article that he headed between 1987 and 1995 — eight years [he] was at the head of the Barbados Union of Teachers.
“Those of us who knew Minister Jones when he was at the head of the BUT, would know that [he] defended the rights of teachers in the same way that the current [head],” Shepherd added.
The trade union leader said he supported Jones’ comments that it was remarkable that the majority of schools would open today given the Barbados’ size and limited resources, however: “If there are 103 schools and he can open 102 of them at the start of this term and … two are in the condition that the St. Jude’s Primary and the Society Primary schools were in, then I have a fundamental problem with opening those schools and putting the teachers’ and children’s lives at risk.”
Noting that Society Primary was older than 150 years, Shepherd said the photos published did not lie and were an accurate depiction of conditions seen at the St. John when he visited Thursday and Friday last week “in defense of teachers who felt unsafe”.
This morning in the road outside of the primary school, Shepherd told Barbados TODAY that after receiving a call from the shop steward who had indicated there were still concerns, he went there.
“On arrival the Ministry of Education had a number of persons on the compound. They were meeting with the principal at the time,” he said.
The trade union leader said work done included stabilising the staircase and removing the mushrooms which had been growing on the wall.
“If you take a look at the building you would notice that the termite trails are no longer very visible so some covering has been done, maybe they were treated and the area painted. I noticed the fungi and mould appear[ed] to be growing on the walls but the ministry I was told … treated those areas with some transparent solution. We will await the death of the mould and fungus in those areas…
“The Ministry is in a meeting with the staff and the decision has been taken to continue the work. It is my understanding that two teams of industrial cleaners will be in today … because teachers are still having concerns about dust, particularly coming from the upper floor onto the teachers and students who occupy the bottom floor,” he stated.
Shepherd outlined the BUT’s mandate.
“If teachers in Barbados feel unsafe in any building in which the Ministry of Education wants them to work then it is the duty of the BUT to represent them and Minister Jones is fully aware of that.
“If the minister categorises it as pervasive negativity, that is for the minister but I am doing my job, and teachers in Barbados need to be as comfortable as any other public servant in carrying out their duties. The children of Barbados need to be placed in environments that are safe and healthy, like any other person in Barbados and I will defend and continue to defend my members for as long as they are in need of that defence,” he asserted.
Regarding Alma Parris Secondary, Shepherd said that there would be no industrial action there as efforts at a resolution were made. These include a full inspection slated to start on September 23.
“I am not letting the teachers at Alma Parris School down. I am not going to fall short when it comes to representation of teachers [there]. When Mrs. Karen Best, the Deputy Chief Education Officer responsible for schools was president of the Barbados Union of Teachers, Alma Parris was an issue. I am simply continuing the efforts of the former president and simply continuing the agitation of behalf of the teachers of Alma Parris School and I will continue to do so.
“And until there is enough evidence that the teachers are comfortable. Pedro Shepherd and the BUT will continue to speak on the issues related to that school,” he said.
Teachers at the St. Peter school reported for duty this morning but left at half day and will meet next Monday to ensure there are no issues with the timetable. [email protected]