The Barbados Union of Teachers (BUT) has issued a stern warning to the Ministry of Education that it was abandoning its compliant and tolerant method for a more militant and combative approach to industrial relations.
Angry that a number of vexing issues was compounded by the docking of the pay of 80 per cent of teachers who had attended union meetings during school hours in April and May, BUT President Pedro Shepherd did not mince words when he addressed the 20th annual John Cumberbatch Memorial Lecture at the Almond Bay Conference Centre yesterday.
“Teachers must recognize that it can no longer be business as usual. The time has come for a resurgence of the energies exhibited by our predecessors,” he said, listing past union leaders, including Minister of Education Ronald Jones with whom the BUT has clashed consistently, and Chief Education Officer Karen Best.
“These were leaders who would not have hesitated to call out teachers and shut schools if ever there was a water outage, or a teacher was struck by a student or parent. If principals were transferred without notice, teachers experiencing dizziness by unknown chemicals or air pollutants, or if a school was vandalized by unknown assailants, these were the leaders who called their membership to meeting during school hours.
“They were militant back then. We had pictures of them breaking down gates at St Leonard’s [Boys’ School] because they were refused entry,” Shepherd added, painting a graphic image of the militancy to which he was referring.
The BUT president went into great detail about the areas of frustration which influenced the change in thinking, including the contentious pay issue.
In letter dated May 6 and signed by Permanent Secretary June Chandler, teachers were informed by the Ronald Jones-led ministry 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.”
However in his address, Shepherd, who earlier this week had said the union would abandon it legal challenge because it would drag on for much too long and would be too costly, insisted that the union remained resolute in its fight to recoup the deducted funds by Christmas.
“It is my intention to meet with teachers who got their salaries docked, those who attended the recent meeting, those who support those who attended and all well wishers, before the end of the term. I want us to have our docked salaries back before Christmas. I certainly want to give myself a gift.
“It seems trade unions are no longer protected by the Trade Unions Act or ILO [International Labour Organization] convention . . . . The intimidation is not going to scare me from carrying out my duties as president,” Shepherd insisted.