President of the Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union (BSTU) Mary Redman is sending a strong message to the Ministry of Education that her members will not be intimidated by threats of docked pay for attending union meetings during school hours.
And, warned a defiant Redman, any such threats will be met by appropriate counterattack.
The ministry yesterday sent a circular to principals warning that meetings planned for today by the BSTU and the Barbados Union of Teachers (BUT) did not have the support of authorities and “it is the view that convening a meeting during school hours is tantamount to industrial action” that was likely to disrupt classes. While the circular made no reference to docking the pay of those who attend the meetings, the Ronald Jones-led ministry had earlier this year deducted from the pay of a reported 80 per cent of teachers who had attended two BUT meetings.
The issue remains unsettled, as the teachers’ union continues to insist that its members must get their money back.
Despite the perceived threat, Redman told the media that close to 200 teachers attended this afternoon’s meeting at the Barbados Workers Union’s Solidarity House headquarters.
The outspoken trade union leader slammed education authorities for concluding that the meeting, held during school hours, was a strike, insisting only the union could make such a determination.
“They [Ministry of Education] sent us a letter yesterday evening stating that holding a meeting during school time is tantamount to industrial action. I always thought however, that the process towards industrial action was clear in this country and established in proper industrial relations procedure, whereby you follow certain steps – you declare a grievance, you have meetings, and if there is a breakdown in those meetings, then industrial action comes, which is really what they [Ministry of Education] are referring to. It is always the last resort and therefore for somebody to attempt to determine for us that we are taking industrial action, and the most serious form of industrial action at that, we see as something very serious. Certainly as a trade union, we are the ones who determine whether we are striking or not, whether we are taking industrial action or not,” Redman said.
However, the BSTU president did not rule out protest action in the near future, arguing that teachers were “fed up talking without seeing any action in response”.
The teachers attending today’s meeting adopted a number of resolutions dealing with grievances ranging from the ongoing environmental problems at Combermere School – which yesterday forced an indefinite closure of the Waterford, St Michael learning institution – to the continued non-appointment of teachers, the vexing issue of the docking of pay and the BSTU’s involvement in the row between the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) and Government over the reversion of NUPW President Akanni McDowall to a junior level position in the public service.
While the Combermere School remains closed to teachers and students for health and safety reasons, Redman complained that the ministry had insisted that support staff must report to work at the school.
“What has been very disconcerting to us in the Combermere issue is a call we got from one of our members, who is not a teacher. That worker has stated that officials at the ministry have stated that even though the school is closed for the teachers and students, those members of the support staff are to turn up to work. Our position is that if the environment is unsafe for one, it has to be unsafe for all. It cannot be unsafe for teachers and students yet safe for the support staff. So we will be writing the ministry in that regard and to the NUPW and the BWU, who have members there,” Redman revealed.