Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Education Senator Harry Husbands has challenged both teachers’ unions to explain what their dispute with the ministry is about.
Describing the current protests by the educators as “craziness”, Husbands threw down this challenge to the Barbados Secondary Teachers Union (BSTU) and the Barbados Union of Teachers (BUT) as he spoke in the Senate today.
The former BUT president and general secretary contended that based on his considerable experience in industrial relations, he was yet to find a dispute between the Ministry of Education and the two unions.
He pointed out that in the last two months officials have met with both the BSTU and the BUT on “more occasions than at any other time that I was in the Ministry”.
Husbands, who is a former primary school teacher, added, “we met with the BUT about a month ago with an agenda that was three hours or four hours long [and] we discussed everything in the teaching profession. There were no issues, there were no disputes and there was no confrontation.”
However, he acknowledged that there were some grievances, which both he and Minister of Education Ronald Jones were simply not prepared to address.
“I do not deal with grievances, the Minister does not deal with grievances, so they were supposed to get back to the officers in the Ministry of Education who deal with individual grievances,” Husbands said.
The education official also told the Senate that he had met at the beginning of the school term with both teachers’ unions to brief them on all that had been done at the schools as it relates to environmental issues.
He recalled that BSTU President Mary Redman and BUT President Pedro Shepherd had indicated that the schools were ready for work as a result of those talks.
Husbands added that within the last two months, officials have met with the BSTU on the issue of School Based Assessments, as well as “on whatever other issues they have”, while suggesting, “it was never a dispute or contention”.
He went on to say that two weeks ago the BUT met with Chief Education Officer Karen Best to discuss the recent violent incident at Ellerslie Secondary School involving a student and a teacher, as well as the claim that a teacher at a primary school had beaten up an eight-year-old student.
“Those matters were settled as much as they could be settled at the level of the Ministry of Education because the parents were involved in some [of the discussions] and the police were involved in some and there was never any contention,” the Government official said.
However, he pointed out that the day after that meeting, the BUT announced that it was holding a meeting during school time.
“As a result of that meeting on a Friday, the union delivers a letter to the Ministry of Education on Monday which essentially says if the Minister of Education Ronald Jones does not meet with them on Wednesday, I mean all 2,500 teachers by Wednesday, they are going on strike on Friday.
“In all fairness, that is an offer you have to refuse,” Husbands told the Upper Chamber, adding, “You cannot agree to an offer like that.
“That is an offer [to which] anybody who is worth his salt would say: ‘do whatever you want to do’.”
He added that “since then this craziness [by the unions] has continued.
“[But] as far as the Ministry of Education is concerned, there is no dispute between it and the BUT. I read in the newspaper that the President of the BSTU Mary Redman, who spent May Day in Havana, Cuba, celebrating with the Cuban workers, said her members were not supporting a strike because she did not know what it was about. That is the situation we have.” (NC)