Amid the worsening rift between him and teachers, which threatens to totally disrupt this island’s school system, the ruling Democratic Labour Party (DLP) today threw its full support behind embattled Minister of Education Ronald Jones.
In a press statement signed by General Secretary George Pilgrim, the General Council of the party, which is led by Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, made clear where it stood in the ongoing impasse that has so far escalated to the level of a work-to-rule by teachers, with the umbrella Barbados Union of Teachers (BUT) also leading calls for Jones’ dismissal.
However, based on the tone and tenure of today’s statement, Jones is not going anywhere. Furthermore, the Stuart-led party is not about to be dictated to by any union, even if it means more disruption to what is currently being described by teachers as a “broken” school system.
In fact, instead of a reprimand of any kind, the DLP today issued strong words of praise to both the minister and his team in the Ministry of Education as it poured cold water on the union’s calls for the minister’s resignation.
“We are fully aware of the efforts of the Ministry of Education in the last eight years under the leadership of Ronald Jones and further commend the minister and the officers of the Ministry of Education in their efforts to supervise the fabric of our educational infrastructure,” the party said, as it also extended its congratulations to the entire Cabinet in whose responsibility the matter of policy rests.
It further commended the minister and his team for having done “much work at improving the tenure of teachers, creation of post, upgrading the teaching environment, physical plant and developing constant and open dialogue with all partners.
“We have on good record, in the past three months the union met with the minister twice and three times with ministry officials on a suite of issues. We further commend all teachers in their efforts before school, during and after hours.
“There is no contention over the importance and role all teachers play in shaping the nation’s children.
“The Council reiterates its full support for our Minister of Education and his Cabinet colleagues as they continue to put people first and wish for a win-win relationship to prevail in this matter,” added the statement issued by Pilgrim, who is also the Prime Minister’s principal political advisor.
This comes as a direct slap in the face to the Pedro Shepherd-led BUT, which only yesterday had summoned teachers out of the classroom for the second time in as many weeks, but this time to a meeting in Queen’s Park, which is directly opposite the minister’s office, from where the union declared all out war against the minister over his refusal to accede to their demands for an urgent meeting to discuss pressing matters, including worrying levels of violence in schools.
However, the DLP said while it roundly condemns “any type of violence within the school system”, its view was that there ought to be “a just process underpinned by the rule of law.
“As a political party we firmly support the idea of due process,” the statement added.
Referring to the ongoing impasse between the umbrella teachers’ union and the Minister of Education, the governing party made it clear that even though it accepted the union’s right to represent its constituents, it differed with the BUT’s attempt “to give the public and its constituency the impression that the Ministry of Education has somehow turned its back on teachers and their concerns.
“We further frown upon the public shouting of request for meetings and ultimatums to our Minister and our Prime Minister. We trust that all courtesies be extended where it is most relevant,” added the statement, which comes directly on the heels of yesterday’s declaration of war by the BUT against Jones.
Addressing about 500 of its 2,000-plus members in Queen’s Park yesterday, Shepherd also announced that effective today, this island’s teachers would be on a “work-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,’” Shepherd had said.
When contacted by Barbados TODAY this afternoon, the union leader confirmed that his union had in fact dispatched its letter to the Prime Minister in support of its request for a meeting with Jones.
The union is giving Government two weeks to respond before it meets again with its members to decide on their next step in the impasse.
In the meantime, the Ministry of Education also issued a statement today in which it strongly refuted claims made by the BUT that it had failed to meet and or communicate on issues affecting teachers.
That statement, which was released by the Barbados Government Information Service, basically repeated much of what was said in the Senate yesterday by the Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Education Senator Harry Husbands, who was at pains to recall a series of meetings held between the two sides since January 5 this year, based on an agenda of 17 items of concern which the BUT had submitted for discussion.
“Subsequently, on February 2, 2016, the Ministry proposed nine additional items for discussion [and] on February 3, 2016, the BUT confirmed its attendance at the meeting scheduled for February 5, 2016,” the ministry’s statement said.
“On February 5, 2016, at a meeting chaired by the Minister of Education, Science, Technology and Innovation, Ronald Jones, at the Ministry’s Headquarters, the METI met with the BUT and not only discussed issues but also reached consensus,” it continued.
The ministry said several issues were discussed, including short-term study leave, term leave, a mobile technology policy, the appointment of teachers and health and safety in schools.
It also disclosed that additional meetings were held with the BUT on April 4 to discuss the environmental issues at Lawrence T. Gay, Springer Memorial and the Lodge School; on April 11 to discuss the way forward for Lawrence T. Gay Primary; and on April 27 to discuss the issue of violence in schools, in particular student-on-teacher violence and teacher-on-student violence. Those meetings, the Ministry stated, were chaired by Husbands; the Permanent Secretary and the Chief Education Officer respectively.
“It is against this background that the [Ministry] is refuting charges that it has not had dialogue with the BUT on issues submitted to the Ministry of Education, Science, Technology and Innovation,” the statement added.