The bitter standoff between the umbrella Barbados Union of Teachers (BUT) and Minister of Education Ronald Jones is over and the two sides are finally talking again.
Confirmation of this today from BUT President Pedro Shepherd following a month-long public squabble between the two sides that degenerated into calls for Jones to step down after he refused to give in to the union’s demands to meet “urgently” with its members to discuss a number of pressing issues in schools.
However, late last week, it appeared that Jones was finally ready to give in, as he vowed from the floor of Parliament to do “everything decent” to bring an end to the impasse with the country’s teachers.
He went further last weekend at the Barbados Manufacturers’ Exhibition 2016, delivering an olive branch to the educators by thanking them for their hard work and for going the extra mile without compensation.
“Disruption is essential for growth, but as the growth starts to take place, you find uncertainty,” the minister said then.
Since then, tempers have cooled significantly with Shepherd reporting today that “things are looking up”.
The BUT President also confirmed that meetings had been taking place between representatives of his union and the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Education June Chandler, which “have been offering some promise”.
However, he said the union was still awaiting clarification on outstanding issues of study leave and term leave.
“The PS at the last meeting last Tuesday had given us the undertaking that she would go back and do some further research on the topics. So once that is done, we should be able to give the teachers the answers they require in relation to term leave . . . study leave in particular.”
At the height of the impasse, the teachers had identified 27 issues to be discussed and addressed.
These 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 and replacement of technology in schools; as well as issues involving a number of secondary schools, including Parkinson and Alma Paris.
However, Shepherd explained that while there was not yet a definitive position on any of these grievances, he was satisfied that there was a willingness on the part of the Permanent Secretary to investigate further.
Asked how soon Jones was likely to meet with the teachers, the union leader replied: “We are to get back to the PS with an agenda of the issues.”
However, he said the ministry had proposed that instead of having Jones meet with the full BUT membership of 2,000 teachers, the minister should meet with a small group of stewards in the first instance and then “if they think it is necessary, then the minister would probably invite us to a full meeting”.
Shepherd admitted that a full meeting could be challenging since the Wildey Gymnasium, which usually accommodates such large gatherings, was undergoing renovations.
“That is a challenge for any large meeting, but we will see how it goes. If the one with the stewards come off, we will see how that goes, and then see if there would be the need for a larger group to actually meet the minister. But as it stands now, the larger group is still anticipating a meeting with the minister,” he revealed.
At their April 22 meeting, the teachers had given their leadership the mandate to seek an urgent meeting with Jones.
Shepherd said that position stood, even though he acknowledged that it was entirely up to the members to decide.
“We will see how it goes,” he told Barbados TODAY.
The latest row between the BUT and Jones stemmed from an April 14 incident at Ellerslie Secondary School during which a student allegedly spat on and kicked a teacher.
Asked for an update on the Ellerslie School matter, Shepherd said he was still in the dark, adding that no word had been forthcoming even though a report had been submitted to Jones on the incident.
BSTU President Mary Redman could not be reached for comment. (EJ)