The Barbados Secondary Teachers Union (BSTU) has described as both “discriminatory” and “flawed” the recent move by the Ministry of Education to punish unionized teachers who attended two recent meetings called by the umbrella Barbados Union of Teachers (BUT).
Those meetings, which took place on April 29 and May 4 this year, came at the height of an impasse between the ministry and the BUT, which had publicly demanded and was refused an urgent meeting with the Minister of Education Ronald Jones to discuss a number of pressing issues affecting the country’s teachers, including the vexed issue of violence in schools.
In retaliation, the ministry’s Permanent Secretary June Chandler issued a June 6 letter in which she informed that deductions would be made from the salaries of the teachers who attended without “permission” or “satisfactory explanation” the BUT’s meetings.
However, Redman has issued a stern word of warning to the education ministry that it had better not touch the pay of BSTU members.
“If a cent of one of our members is touched in such circumstances, then the BSTU will be, once again, forced to do what it has to do to protect the rights and interests of its membership,” said Redman in her statement, in which she also suggested that the BUT should take the Government to court over the controversial salary deductions.
“The BSTU certainly sees legal implications re: the actions of the ministry in this regard. The BSTU earlier advised the BUT to file an injunction in this matter. That apart, the BSTU must continue to question why would an employer, already in a position of disfavour, seek to start a battle of this sort which will merely inflame unfortunate circumstances even more?” asked Redman, who also questioned, “why too did the ministry seek to do this in a secretive manner by not copying its letter to the secretary-treasurers of the teachers’ unions?
“Such actions display nothing but bad faith,” she cautioned as she went on to ask: “Why the repeated displays of disdain, disrespect and disregard for the people performing one of the most important functions in this society?
“This whole incident, yet again, underscores the disconnect evident among certain senior officers in the Ministry of Education from the realities and needs of our educational system,” she said.
In her strongly worded letter, the BSTU president also described the ministry’s reasons for making the salary deductions as “flawed”, arguing that “custom and practice” were observed by the BUT.
She also pointed out that the union “followed the identical procedures of written notification of the Ministry of Education and principals, and with the names of those attending such meetings being recorded at the school and at the meetings as they have always done, and in the same way.
“The BUT also held the meetings within the working day of teachers, as it had done on many prior occasions,” the BSTU President said, arguing that permission was therefore not needed.
She also said the simple “explanation” for the two meetings would have been the necessity of a meeting with its membership.
Taking a swipe at Jones and the Chief Education Officer Karen Best, Redman further pointed out that the “present modus operandi” and “execution of the two referenced meetings have in no way deviated from what obtained when they both led the BUT.
However, she pointed out that back then, there was neither the threat nor execution of any salary cuts.
The BSTU spokeswoman also highlighted Articles 87 and 98 of the International Labour Organisation Conventions, which have been ratified by the Barbados Government and which are reflected in our Trade Unions Act. These, she said, not only guaranteed freedom of association but allowed for the right of a trade union to call out members to a meeting without suffering any sanction.
Although the ministry has been insisting that the BUT meetings were not sanctioned, Redman argued that they did not constitute industrial action of any sort, including strike action, since on both occasions, the teachers returned to school and resumed normal classes by the end of lunch.
She also sought to lay blame on the shoulders of the ministry, saying “let us not forget too that the BUT was forced to call meetings because of Government’s action or, more accurately, inaction”.
At the same time, she charged that the ministry has been guilty of discriminatory treatment since “the trade union for secondary school principals (BAPPSS) and primary school principals (APPS) meet during school time, at least one day each month for the entire day” without any repercussions.