The start to the new academic term next week is under threat of being disrupted by industrial action, as both the Barbados Union of Teachers (BUT) and Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union (BSTU) seem destined for a showdown with the Ministry of Education over the contentious issue of docked pay.
The Mary Redman-led BSTU has called out its members to a meeting on Monday, during which battle plans will drawn in the event the ministry makes good on its threat to dock the salaries of teachers who, earlier this month, attended the union’s March of Respect to press for a resolution to a number of issues, including payment for the marking of school-based assessment projects administered by the Caribbean Examinations Council.
The ministry regarded the protest as unsanctioned industrial action, and has threatened to punish those who participated in the march during school hours.
It was the same position that the ministry had adopted after teachers represented by the BUT had attended meetings in April and May last year, at the height of a major row with Minister of Education Ronald Jones, who they had been pressuring to meet with them to discuss their concerns.
In that case, 80 per cent of the teachers had their salaries docked, angering the BUT, whose President Pedro Shepherd made it clear Thursday his members were no longer willing to talk or write about the matter.
Addressing the BUT’s annual conference, which concluded Thursday at Almond Bay Caterers, Shepherd warned that the time had come for militancy, because the usual diplomatic channels were pointless.
“Would the BUT be unjustified in calling out the members on this matter after 11 months of waiting for common sense to prevail? Clearly, when the ministry told us that they sent off the information to the Solicitor General for her advice and the subsequent announcements by the Minister of Education and several members of Cabinet, we were supposed to forget the issue and pronounce it dead, never to be resurrected, and thus treat it as our blood shed for our sins for wanting a hearing, due process, respect, fairness and justice from the employer.
“Let me inform you that like what happened on Good Friday and the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the tomb, the docking of pay, even though it spent several months lying in the tomb either at the Ministry of Education or the Solicitor General’s office, that too is not dead as we shall witness in short order. As a matter of fact it has risen and it is alive today as it was in May last year and it will be fought to the death,” Shepherd warned linking the vexing issue to one of the key foundations of Christianity.
While he was silent on the form of action the union intended to take, Shepherd made it clear that returning to the negotiating table was pointless.
“With all that has been happening in the public service, Parliament and our country in recent times, I have come to the conclusion, like most other trade unionist, that it is seemingly a waste of time trying to engage agents of this Government, particularly so for us, those at Constitution Road [Ministry of Education],” he stressed.