Secondary school teachers Wednesday morning sent a strong signal to the Ronald Jones-led Ministry of Education of intensified action this year to press for a fair deal.
Some 200 members of the 500-strong Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union (BSTU) took to the streets of the capital in a “March of Respect” to demonstrate their disgust with the way the ministry was treating teachers.
High on their agenda was the vexing issue of payment for marking school-based assessment (SBA) projects administered by the Caribbean Examination Council (CXC), a demand Jones has repeatedly dismissed, often in the most unflattering of terms.
However, the educators said they had reached the end of their tether on several other issues as well, and they were not prepared to sit idly by and allow Government to give them “the run around”.
“This demonstration is just the beginning. At the beginning of the year we had a general meeting and we agreed that 2017 would be a different type of year. We are tired of writing letters, we are tired of being given the run around, we are tired of being dismissed and we are tired of being excluded. So this year is going to be a year of action. We have made that commitment to the membership, and the members are holding us to it because this march has resulted from a demand made of us as officers from the membership,” BSTU President Mary Redman said during a pause outside the office of the Personnel Administration Division on Culloden Road, St Michael, her voice amplified by a megaphone.
Clad in red shirts, the placard-waving teachers had assembled at Queen’s Park at 10 a.m. before beginning the march, which took them along St Michael’s Row, Bridge Street, and River Road.
An emotional Redman told the media she was overwhelmed by the response from teachers, even though there had been limited time for the BSTU executive to solicit support.
“We had very little time to plan and organize because in between there was sports, and that is why I am so happy at this turnout because we could not get into the schools to do our motivation,” she explained.
While today’s march had the support of the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) and the Barbados Workers’ Union (BWU), noticeably absent were members of the executive of the Congress of Trade Unions and Staff Associations of Barbados (CTUSAB) and the Barbados Union of Teachers (BUT).
“NUPW has come out this morning even though today is their elections, so the president Akanni McDowall, he came out and spoke to us; sister Toni Moore [General Secretary of the BWU] turned out even though they are in some active negotiations with Sol. We also informed CTUSAB and BUT and asked them to support our principles in whatever way they deemed appropriate but we have not heard anything from them,” Redman revealed.
Despite this, the trade unionist said her organization had a proud legacy of effecting change for the benefit of all teachers, often with minimal support.
And she promised the union would never relent.
“I am very pleased with the turnout, we expected a good turnout but this has exceeded expectations. We are a small union, our membership is just about 500 – and part of that membership is made up of retirees – so we are pleased with the turnout today.
“We are a small union but we are forceful. We fight and punch far above our weight because we have that legacy. It is second oldest union in this country and . . . all of the benefits that teachers have won and enjoyed in this country have come as result of the BSTU, and that is no exaggeration,” Redman stressed.