Starting tomorrow, this island’s teachers will be on a “work-to-rule”.
President of the umbrella Barbados Union of Teachers (BUT) Pedro Shepherd made the announcement today as an estimated 500 unionized educators gathered in Queen’s Park, The City — which is located directly opposite to Ministry of Education’s Constitution Road headquarters — in a strong show of disapproval over Minister of Education Ronald Jones’ refusal to meet with them to iron out a number of pressing issues.
Shepherd, in an address to the large gathering, also disclosed that he would be writing a letter to Prime Minister Freundel Stuart seeking his intervention in the impasse.
That letter to the Prime Minister was to be delivered this evening.
However, if the BUT does not get a meeting with Jones over the next two weeks, Shepherd said the union was prepared to call out its members to another meeting to discuss the next stage of protest action.
For the past three weeks, the teachers’ union has been demanding a meeting with Jones, but their request has been turned down.
And at the end of their near four-hour long meeting today, which ended promptly at 1 p.m., Shepherd told journalists the union was in “a fighting mood” and nothing was going to “turn” members back “unless we have a meeting” with Jones.
“From here we are asking the members to institute a work-to-rule. I know if is not going to be a hundred per cent because teachers love their children and they are going to do whatever they can to be at school as early as possible and leave when the last child leaves. But I am saying our school day starts at 8:45 [a.m.], if people are not thankful for the job we do outside of the school hours then we work from 8:45 until 3 [p.m.], making sure that we observe the ILO [International Labour Organization] convention and have an hour for lunch as well,” he explained.
As to the contents of his letter to the Prime Minister, Shepherd said: “I am going to ask him to organize/set up a meeting of the Barbados Union of Teachers, whether it be the executive or full membership, and the Ministry of Education, whether it be the Minister, Permanent Secretary, Chief Education Officer and others, or a larger delegation from the ministry,” he said.
“But whether that is done in a small way or not, I think the ultimate thing that we need is for the Ministry of Education to meet with us. So even if the Prime Minister meets a small group of us, we still want the Minister of Education to meet with teachers,” added Shepherd.
Declaring war on the Ministry of Education, the BUT President said “it is not war where we are going to bring our guns blazing”.
Instead, he said, “we are simply saying to the minister we are in that mood where we expect you to come and resolve these issues. Otherwise we will do what we have to do.
“It means meeting once per week [or] twice per week during school time, because we are not going to meet with our members outside of school time. We are going to put pressure and if pressure means that we have to meet during school we are prepared to meet during school time,” a defiant Shepherd told reporters.
Earlier, he had told the gathering of teachers that between them and the ministry about 27 issues had been identified in previous meetings to be discussed and addressed.
These, Shepherd said, included violence in schools; safety and health issues; school closure and policy relating to water outages and stench; summer work programme; terms leave; study leave; information technology coordinators; punctuality and absenteeism; early childhood coordinators; teacher service commission; appointment of temporary teachers; teacher evaluation; corporal punishment; mobile technology policy; replacement of technology in schools; as well as issues involving a number of secondary schools, including Parkinson and Alma Paris.
“If we had sat with the Ministry of Education and we had mutually agreed on all of these issues here, we wouldn’t be here [today]. . . We declare war on the Ministry,” he said to loud cheers.
“And we are going to continue our meetings whether they be in central Barbados, northern Barbados or eastern Barbados, because everybody in Barbados needs to know our concerns,” said Shepherd, pointing out that the main reason for having the meeting in Queen’s Park was to bring the issues close to the Ministry of Education since Jones had refused to meet with them.
“Next from here has to be working to rule. So as you go to school tomorrow, tell your colleagues that we are working to rule. We go in at 8:45 [a.m.] and leave at 3 [p.m.]. Do not go in before, because if something happens and you do not attend to it you are being held liable. So do not go in before 8:45 a.m.,” he pleaded with the teachers.
“That is the call now. That will continue until the Prime Minister receives our letter and responds to it by saying, ‘I am prepared to intervene in this situation because it can only get worse if my Minister of Education continues to be the stubborn person he is.’”
In response to reports that Jones had requested a list of teachers who were at the last BUT meeting, Shepherd described it as a “scare tactic”, while warning the schools’ authorities not to “disappoint any of these teachers here today by docking their pay for attending any of our meetings.
“ . . . You will see who will get disappoint,” he further cautioned.
The BUT president also called on the public not to jump to conclusions but to “give us a fair hearing and let the process be gone through”.
Among today’s crowd were General Secretary of the umbrella Congress of Trade Unions and Staff Associations of Barbados Dennis DePeiza and Opposition Shadow Minister of Education Edmund Hinkson.
However, the BUT’s Public Relations Officer Dwane Goddard expressed disappointment at today’s turn out, which was less than that registered for its previous two meetings.
Shepherd also reported that while the meeting was going on, he received reports that teachers who stayed at school had as many as 70 students in one classroom.
He also said while teachers had brought “charts” with them to today’s meeting, the union had not asked for permission to use them and so they did not. However, he said if forced to call another meeting “we are going to make sure we ask permission to use placards”.
Starting that the island’s educators were doing a fantastic job, the union leader called on Jones and other Government officials to “stop bashing teachers”.
He also suggested that Jones should “eat some humble pie, come down from his laurels and say to teachers, ‘I am sorry’”.