The Barbados Union of Teachers (BUT) has offered the Freundel Stuart administration an olive branch, saying it was time to end the ‘antagonistic” relationship between the union and Government.
The union and the Ministry of Education had a stormy relationship last school year with both sides embroiled in a war of words over issues ranging from the appointment of temporary teachers to working conditions at some schools.
The summer holidays did little to ease the tension as the BUT threatened to disrupt the start of the new school year last month over the fate of the over 400 teachers, only withdrawing the threat after Minister of Education Ronald Jones promised that the teachers would be appointed by the end of September.
This situation remains fluid even after reassurances from Jones at the beginning of this month that letters would soon be on the way.
BUT president Pedro Shepherd told a news conference at the union’s Welches, St Michael headquarters today some appointments have been confirmed. However, he said he was hoping for a resolution to all outstanding issues by
year-end and was looking forward to the two sides embracing each other warmly.
“I am hoping we can go forward differently this year. So far I am not seeing it. But I am hoping that something can happen and that the relationship between the Barbados Union of Teachers and the Ministry of Education would improve over the next few months . . . days. This is Education Month and I believe that this is the perfect time for us to extend our arms to each other,” Shepherd said at the news conference called to update the media on the BUT’s contribution to storm-ravaged Dominica and to publicize its 40th anniversary magazine, Outlook.
In emphasizing the need for a “mending of fences” the union boss said both sides had the same objectives, therefore it would make sense for them to work together.
“There is no need for us to be having this antagonistic sort of relationship, and I would hope that the BUT and the Ministry would come together at the level of maybe the minister or the PS [permanent secretary] and sit down and look at the issues that are affecting education and see how best we can take education forward into the next year and into the future,” he stressed.
Shepherd described the last year as a trying one for the BUT, contending that the Ministry of Education “at times wasn’t forthcoming” in its dealing with the union. He said a number of the issues remained unresolved, listing teaching conditions at the Parkinson Memorial Secondary School and the Alma Parris Secondary School and the pace at which appointments were being made in the service as among the main issues separating the two sides.
“I think those are the three issues for which the union and the Ministry had some degree of trouble in finding common ground. We have had the announcement of some appointments; and I can say today that a few teachers did receive letters of appointment last week, so the process has started.”
He said while he had seen statements in the media that the reports on Parkinson and Alma Parris had been completed, the BUT had not been officially notified or consulted.
Government carried out an investigation into the teaching conditions at both schools following complaints and protests by the union.
“The union has not been told by the Ministry officially that the reports are in. I don’t know when or if the reports would be discussed with the union, but I am hoping that we can mend whatever fences, build whatever bridges there are to build so that we can get across and end up at the same point that we are going,” emphasized the BUT president.
When Jones confirmed to the media on October 3 that appointment letters to 416 temporary teachers would be late, Shepherd retorted that the BUT was not comforted by the announcement. Jones’ statement came a day after the union leader demanded an update from the minister on the situation or the BUT would explore “all possible options” to protest against the delay.
The minister promised then that temporary teachers would begin receiving their letters of appointment within a week but that assurance failed to console the BUT president who told Barbados TODAY that if the Ministry had known that it would not have met the September 30 deadline, officials should have informed the union, which in turn would have conveyed the message to its members.