Opposition Parliamentarians have slammed Minister of Education Ronald Jones over the decision by the Ministry of Education to dock the salaries of teachers who attended two meetings of the Barbados Union of Teachers (BUT) at the height of a public squabble with Government last month.
The Barbados Labour Party (BLP) representatives used this week’s parliamentary debate on the Public Service (Teachers) Order 2016, to paint Jones as uncaring and callous.
Shadow Minister of Education Edmund Hinkson argued that the ruling Democratic Labour Party had reneged on promises to public servants in the lead up to the 2008 general election and was now putting them through further suffering.
“This is not good enough, these are teachers who have not had a salary increase since 2010, but yet after having been promised interest-free car loans in the 2008 manifesto of the Democratic Labour Party, having to suffer and be subject to an increase in taxes and increase cost of living of about 40 per cent, to be now subject to a reduction in salaries, really and truly is not good,” he lamented.
A letter from the Jones-led ministry dated May 6 and signed by Permanent Secretary June Chandler, advised that in accordance with Section 3.3.2 of the General Orders, the salaries of teachers who attended the BUT meetings held on April 29 and May 4, 2016, without permission, would be proportionately abated for the month of May, 2016.
Insisting the teachers had real grievances, Hinkson contended that during the 2010 protests by teachers at Alexandra, those who missed classes for several days received their full pay cheques.
He queried whether the current decision was prompted by the poor state of Government’s finances.
“Is it that we are still under so much economic pressure that we have to take every single opportunity to look at reduction in the salaries of public servants? We have to have justice and equity in this country,” the Opposition parliamentarian said.
Member of Parliament for St George South Dwight Sutherland supported his fellow BLP MP, arguing that Government had set a precedent with the Alexandra affair.
Sutherland accused the Minister of Education playing games with the Public Service Act when he should first be exercising patience with teachers who have endured tough challenges.
“Teachers that have spent their pocket money to ensure that the physical plant is maintained, that is what you as Government is seeking to do to teachers,” Sutherland complained.
However, Minister of Housing Denis Kellman ridiculed the Opposition, saying suggesting the comparison with the Alexandra situation was absurd.
“When the teachers at Alexandra School went on strike, it was not against the Ministry of Education, it was teachers versus another teacher and the Ministry of Education could not get involved as if it was fighting for one group or the other. But what you saw a couple of weeks ago, it was the BUT versus the Ministry of Education,” he argued.
The St Lucy MP insisted no other Minister of Education had done as much for teachers as Jones and he warned BUT President Pedro Shepherd to tread cautiously with his demands.
“So I am saying that the President of the BUT needs to be very careful that he does not dilute the contribution that he has made to the educational system in this country and that he does not dilute himself by asking for too much when he has achieved a lot.
“This Government has listened to the teaching profession and everything they have asked they have responded to it in a positive way,” Kellman said.