One day after the ruling Democratic Labour Party (DLP) threw its full support behind Minister of Education Ronald Jones in his row with the country’s teachers, two of his cabinet colleagues today expressed “full and complete” confidence in the embattled minister.
In a press statement issued yesterday by General Secretary George Pilgrim, the General Council of the DLP, led by Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, issued strong words of praise for both Jones and his team in the Ministry of Education and poured cold water on the Barbados Union of Teachers’ (BUT) calls for the minister’s resignation.
Furthermore, the Stuart-led party made it clear it would not be dictated to by any union, even if it meant more disruption to what is currently being described by teachers as a “broken” school system.
Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler and Minister of Housing Dennis Kellman continued the theme today in separate media interviews.
“I have full and complete confidence in the Minister of Education and the Ministry of Education in these matters,” Sinckler told journalists at a celebratory event at Casa Grande Hotel for students from his constituency who wrote this week’s Barbados Secondary Schools Entrance Examination.
The minister then sought to turn the tables on the BUT by describing its call for Jones to meet with its members as a sign of failure.
The BUT has demanded the meeting to discuss a number of issues of concern, however Jones has turned down the request. The teachers have since gone on work-to-rule and have threatened to intensify their protest if Prime Minister Freundel Stuart does not provide a satisfactory response within two weeks, to a letter they wrote to him on Wednesday seeking his intervention.
Today, Sinckler said he was unsure what BUT President Pedro Shepherd was requesting from Jones, insisting that a meeting with the entire membership of 2,000 teachers could be “physically, mentally and intellectually challenging” for the Minister of Education.
“To me it seems like a fairly, maybe unintended, implicit admission of failure on the part of the leadership of the union. I don’t think that is the intention because I don’t think anybody would go and say that or admit it publically, but by implication that is basically what they are saying. They are not saying ‘come and meet the executive of the union or the elected people to negotiate on behalf of the union, [they are saying] I want you to meet with the whole membership’. Now something got to be wrong there. There’s some disconnect there in the logic. It doesn’t quite wash in the way I think it ought to but, then maybe perhaps I am wrong [and] it’s just my weird interpretation of what is happening,” Sinckler explained.
The minister acknowledged that the unions had a legitimate right to engage in industrial action if they believed their concerns and issues were not being satisfactorily addressed.
However, he said he did not agree with the BUT’s methods, repeating the position expressed by the DLP and Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Education Senator Harry Husbands that both the minster and the ministry had held several meetings with the union in recent months.
Meantime, Minister of Housing, Lands and Rural Development Denis Kellman argued that Jones has done lot for the teachers, emphasizing a point made by Sinckler that the embattled minister had appointed 400 teachers with another 200 expected to be appointed soon.
In an interview with Barbados TODAY the outspoken Kellman also lashed out at Shepherd, saying the union leader should be praising the Freundel Stuart administration, not marching against it.
Like his other DLP parliamentary colleagues and the party leadership, Kellman made reference to a series of meetings held between the ministry and the BUT.
The Member of Parliament for St Lucy MP also contended that Government had been responding to, and accommodating Shepherd and making him look good but he seemed not to be appreciative of it.