The Ministry of Education could find itself in legal hot water if it goes ahead with plans to cut the pay of teachers who attended two recent meetings called by the Barbados Union of Teachers (BUT).
At a news conference this evening at the union’s Merry Hill, St Michael headquarters, BUT President Pedro Shepherd said based on the legal advice the union had received, there were absolutely no grounds for the ministry to take such punitive action against its members.
He pointed to Section 22 of the second schedule of the Public Service Act, which states that “officers shall not be paid for any day or portion of the day for which they are on strike”.
However, he insisted that teachers who were away from school on April 29 and May 4 were not on strike, but were merely attending union meetings with the permission of their respective principals.
“I do not consider the events of April 29 or that of May 4 to be strike action and I therefore submit that no action can be taken under the Public Service Act of Barbados,” Shepherd told reporters.
However, in a letter dated May 6, Permanent Secretary June Chandler informed that “in accordance with Section 3.3.2 of the General Orders, you are hereby advised that the salaries of those officers, who attended without permission, the Barbados Union of Teachers meetings held on April 29 and May 4, 2016, respectively, should be proportionately abated for the month of May, 2016.”
Shepherd said the union first learnt of the letter via social media, as he warned that the BUT was prepared to take any action necessary to defend its members.
“We certainly are not going to sit idly by and allow threats of docking of pay to prevent us in the BUT from doing what we have to do as a trade union, and if these threats continue then, as I said, we would have to take them as far as we are allowed to take them so that the laws of Barbados can protect the teachers.”
The teachers’ boss suggested that if anyone was at fault, it was the ministry, which he said had ignored a letter from the BUT in which it had signalled its intention to meet with its members.
In view if this, Shepherd said it was therefore unreasonable for the ministry to seek to punish the educators.
“We need action on this because teachers have not been given a pay increase since 2009. Teachers are working from pay cheque to pay cheque and to deduct any quantum of money from a teacher’s salary is going to affect the teacher or teachers significantly,” he said, adding “two days pay is a significant amount”.
Shepherd, who was flanked by other members of his executive, said ministry’s letter also had serious implications for other trade unions in Barbados, saying “CTUSAB would be apprised of its contents for discussion at the level of the executive and at the table of the Social Partnership.”
The BUT head strongly defended the union’s right to call meeting within school hours, saying the country’s laws provided trade unions and staff associations with this right.
“Unions will not call meetings everyday and if the union for whatever reason has to call meetings then we expect the ministry would put a human face to it and then would give some lead way.”
He said even if the ministry had responded to say to the teachers, ‘I don’t think the meeting should be at one o’clock, I would prefer if you have the meeting at 2 [p.m.], so that we can close school at 1.30 [p.m], we would be amenable to it.
However, he said the Ronald Jones-led ministry chose not to respond to union in a timely manner.
Shepherd also pointed out that 99 per cent of the teachers who attended the meetings were given permission by their principals or the person in charge of the school, asking: “If permission was granted by the principals how then can you justify the docking of pay, were the teachers therefore wrong to accept their principals’ permission to attend the meetings? Where is the human face to all of this? What is the rush, can’t there be negotiations on such a matter? Why can’t the ministry move with the same haste to pay those teachers who have been acting in positions for years and can’t get their allowances? What is the position with other unions who call out members to meeting for an entire day every month, why is it that BUT and it members seems to be targeted all the time?”
He charged that the BUT was being unfairly targeted and that the ministry continued to change the rules midstream.
However, he said if the ministry, which has recently been on a collision course with teachers, intends to go forward in good faith with the union to resolve challenges facing the education sector, it should withdraw letter.
Failing this, he said, the union would call on its membership and “ find out what they prepared to do”.