Combermere School teachers walked off the classroom in their numbers today in what appeared to be well-choreographed industrial action.
Shortly after 1 p.m. a number teachers were seen heading to their cars with bags in hand, with one source telling Barbados TODAY they all had appointments.
It was not immediately clear how the action affected classes, although a number of students could be seen outside of the classroom.
Principal Vere Parris was not on the compound when Barbados TODAY visited this afternoon. However, Deputy Principal Monica Parris said she was not at liberty to comment on the number of educators who had left or the reasons for any absence.
A similar situation existed at St George Secondary School, where some teachers are said to have also left early, although not in the same numbers as Combermere.
The Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union (BSTU), which yesterday threatened “very serious” action over the dismissal of three of its members, would not confirm whether or not the educators had engaged in industrial action, with its president Mary Redman saying “it was possible that the teachers all felt ill at once or were all frightened for gunplay”.
“I would have to ask around and see what happened. I have to do my due diligence,” she added somewhat playfully.
It was just yesterday that Redman had told the media that the union would take “very serious” action in support of the three teachers, whom it contended were “unfairly dismissed”.
The union is upset over the sacking of a St Michael School teacher, a principal at the Barbados Learning Centre and a laboratory technician at Combermere School, describing their firing as textbook examples of egregious violations of the grievance procedures by the three school boards.
Redman had said that despite the union’s best efforts to adhere to industrial relations best practices, the three cases, one of which dates back almost eight months, were no closer to being resolved, and industrial action was the only option left.
Her comments came a day after the union’s shop stewards met behind closed doors for a marathon session, at the conclusion of which they agreed that a drastic response was needed to what they claimed was scant respect for the industrial relations process.
Minister of Education Ronald Jones this afternoon said he was unaware of the action at the two schools, explaining that he had been attending a Cabinet meeting all day.
He also said the BSTU had not advised of any planned industrial action, while acknowledging that the teachers were well within their rights to take action.
“If the teachers stayed away this afternoon or do not come tomorrow it is their right. I have not any had any word from the BSTU that they would be doing any form of industrial action or sickouts, so I don’t know. I don’t even know what the grievance is.
“I will have to investigate this matter to see what is the basis of this and obviously speak to the Chief Education Officer [Karen Best], but she is currently overseas on some training exercise and she won’t be back until Monday. I would have to acquaint myself with the facts in the meantime,” Jones said.
At yesterday’s news briefing Redman was particularly stinging in her criticism of the board of management of Combermere, saying they all should resign because they were an “embarrassment to the Minister of Education,who appointed them”.
She had contended that the rationale for the dismissal of the lab technician, who the union claimed was not allowed to defend herself against an “unsubstantiated” report, demonstrated ineptitude on the part of the board.
The two sides had appeared to have reached détente last month after four hours of talks at the ministry’s Constitution Road headquarters where they had discussed working conditions at St George Secondary School.
That meeting had ended with uninhibited expressions of emotion by the teachers, who at the time had said they had felt as if their concerns were finally being taken seriously.
In fact, Redman was unable to hold back the tears after that meeting, and later told Barbados TODAY that the sensitivity with which ministry officials, including Best had responded to her members’ frustrations had augured well for future industrial relations.