Teachers in schools across the island say they are feeling intimidated and threatened by the Ministry of Education. But union heads are urging them not to buckle under that pressure because that’s what the ministry wants.
At a Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union seminar to recognizse Teachers’ Professional Day this morning at the Barbados Worker’s Union headquarters at Solidarity House in Harmony Hall, St Michael, some of the teachers said that because of this atmosphere and also because of a recent circular from the Chief Education Officer, many were now in doubt about their rights.
However, president Mary Redman told them to disregard the circular and instead do as accustomed because the “ministry cannot now see itself as moderator for information coming out of school”.
She assured them that under the Constitution of Barbados, and in accordance to ILO Conventions 87 and 98, of which Barbados was a signatory, it was their right to have freedom of association, the right to organize and the right to collective bargaining.
She stressed: “There seems to be open warfare by some in the ministry against us as teachers and against our representative bodies by those responsible for our very professional well–being. Historically we have always worked with the ministry, it is only in recent times that there is this almost open hostility to teacher/trade unions from the Ministry of Education.
“The BSTU is never antagonistic; the BSTU is vigilant; and we are very concerned with both ensuring that teachers fulfil their professional responsibilities, but at the same time very concerned with ensuring their rights and their interest and protecting those interests. It is very ironic that it is occurring at a time when we have three past trade union leaders in very high positions in the ministry.
“It is very, very ironic . . . . You would think that that exposure would have led to a different more progressive and cooperative relationship –– but that is not so. That has not been our experience in recent times . . . . I’m sure the BUT would say the same. Look how the president was publicly lambasted,” she said.
Redman further charged that the criticism and the threats teacher/trade unions had been receiving from the Ministry of Education should never be. Moreover she believed that as the “model employer” it should applaud them and appreciate the standards they continued to aim for in spite of the difficult circumstances they faced.
“I expressed concern about some of the statements that were made. For example, where the Minister [of Education Ronald Jones] warned teachers not to think that they cannot be touched, that unions can’t come onto the school premises, that we cannot continue our association with the Press, and besides the fact that they exist for us some punitive and vicious transfers that we saw taken place already. We see that there is an ineptitude of compromise and support and hostility coming from the ministry towards teacher/ trade unions.
“By the minister’s statement he is acting ultra vires of the law and he is attempting to micro-manage the schools and erode the power of the principal to make professional decisions and to act on those decisions. He is attempting to unilaterally determine what is positive and what is negative actions on the part of the union and therefore as a result to decide whether teachers should have representation in the workplace or not,” the educator said.
“Those statements represent a total disregard for the status of teachers unions as equal partners in the Social Partnership. His statement goes against the very principle of Government being the model employer. How could he as an agent of the model employer engage in acts that deny workers the most basis and fundamental right?”
The union rep also told the media that the BSTU would continue to go to school, answer any questions the teachers may have in an effort to educate them of their rights.
“We will hopefully assist in their empowerment . . . in terms of their responsibilities and respecting themselves and doing what they have to do and at the same time demanding that their rights and interests are not trampled upon. They have to speak up, how will the issues then be resolved if you don’t speak up? How can you seek to improve things that are of concerned to you in your workplace if you do not bring them to the union and have them address it on your behalf? The union represent workers not members,” she said. (KC)