Minister of Education Ronald Jones has vowed to do “everything decent” to bring an end to the impasse with the country’s teachers.
The Barbados Union of Teachers (BUT) has ordered its 2,000 members to work to rule to pressure Jones to meet with the membership to discuss pressing issues, including violence at school.
The minister has declined the request and the union has threatened to escalate action if it did not receive a favourable response to a letter dispatched to Prime Minister Freundel Stuart last Wednesday, seeking his intervention.
“I promise this House to do everything decent that I have to do to ensure that this current disturbance finds rest in the graveyard of industrial relations. That is my promise and in fact we have mobilized internally in the ministry to ensure that this comes to an end,” Jones told Parliament tonight during debate on the Barbados Labour Party’s no confidence motion.
In what appeared to be a loss of confidence in the minister, the BUT has called for Jones’ resignation, contending that the education system was broken.
During his presentation today, Jones suggested that the union was being unreasonable and that the issue was personal. And he reiterated his promise to bring the row to an amicable end.
“I would encourage unions to not necessarily to go back to everything of the past but to create an arena of reasonableness, an arena of sense, don’t let personal issues taint the environment.
“It is my firm belief that within the shortest possible time the recurring impasse between the Barbados Union of Teachers, and not necessarily with the Ministry of Education but . . . the policy decision process, will be brought to an amicable end and we could move on with giving life to education and giving light to educators,” he said.
Jones, a former BUT president, complained that he was being derided unnecessarily, and hinted at a willingness to meet with the union in an attempt to resolve the dispute.
“It makes no sense as a former leader in the trade union movement to have myself being ridiculed unfortunately and unwarranted, very, very unwarranted to have this continue. I believe that all good men and women seeing reason can sit together and do our best to bring that particular matter to a close,” the embattled minister added.
Jones also took the opportunity to update the nation on recent environmental issues at several of the islands schools, which he charged were mostly “man-made issues and rodent-made issues”, but reported that 90 per cent of those issues had been taken care of.
He stated that the problem with dust at Springer Memorial Secondary had been resolved but that the issue facing Combermere School was a “little more challenging”.
“We couldn’t find out what the issue was and we had to bring in all kinds of people to do the work on Combermere . . . and they are still meeting from time to time to ensure that the lives and health and well-being of those person there are in fact protected.”
However, he stressed that students of Lawrence T Gay Primary have yet to return to their school as efforts continue to solve the problem which forced the ministry to temporarily relocate them.
“We recognize based on some report that some fiberglass has started to disintegrate and was affecting some breathing and stuff and a whole lot of other issues and we started that work a few weeks ago,” he said.