Six days after the Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union (BSTU) filed court action against Government for docking its members’ salaries, the umbrella Barbados Union of Teachers (BUT) Monday followed suit.
It was just after 1 p.m. Monday that a BUT team, led by president Pedro Shepherd and attorney-at-law Gregory Nicholls, descended the steps of the Supreme Court having filed a suit against the Ronald Jones-led Ministry of Education for docking its members’ pay.
Based on the document filed Monday in the name of nine teachers and which names Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Education June Chandler as the primary defendant, the BUT is contending that “the purported abatement of salaries, as directed by Chandler, was procedurally ultra vires and in breach of the provisions for the discipline
of public officers found in (1) the Public Service Act (ii) the Service Commissions (Public Service) Regulations, 1978; and (iii) the General Orders for the Public Service of Barbados, 1970 (as amended)”.
The BUT is also seeking legal redress over “the unilateral change in the terms and conditions of service of teachers in the Public Service of Barbados by the suspension, termination or discontinuation of the grant of a term’s leave with full pay to qualifying teachers”.
Shepherd told Barbados TODAY the move had been several months in coming. However, he said the union wanted to ensure that all the necessary documents were in place before turning to the law courts.
He also said the BUT had been hoping that an out-of-court settlement could be reached but was forced to resort to legal action after the Ministry of Education and the Solicitor General’s Office both failed to address the docking of pay issue, which occurred a year ago after members attended union meetings on April 29 and May 4 at the BUT headquarters and Queen’s Park respectively.
Shepherd stressed that the BUT had written to the ministry numerous times to no avail before the matter was forwarded by the ministry to Solicitor General Jennifer Edwards in June 2016.
To date, the Solicitor General has not responded to the teachers’ complaint.
“We have decided we would follow through and let the court decide whether the docking of pay was legal or illegal and whether the suspension of the term’s leave unilaterally by the Ministry of Education again was legal or illegal,” he told Barbados TODAY.
The teachers’ spokesman also accused Government of abusing its power and unlawfully suspending the term’s vacation leave of teachers and of ignoring its obligations to the Social Partnership. In fact, he suggested there needed to be a re-evaluation of the tripartite arrangement among unions, the private sector and Government.
“The rights of teachers have been violated on both grounds and there was no discussion on either matter. We are stakeholders on education, we have an agreement with the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Civil Service and if there is to be a change in terms and conditions of service, I think the Public Service Act and the whole code of the Social Partnership protocols would seek to. . . determine whether or not a change is necessary or what the change should be, rather than having a department or ministry unilaterally changing terms and conditions of service,” he insisted.
“I think people tend to forget what they sign on to, so I think this particular case may very well open up that avenue where people realize that there is need to look back at the Social Partnership and see whether or not the tenets of Social Partnership are being adhered to by the three sides.
“If one is being abused on one side or another then you would have to look back and see if the Social Partnership and protocols are indeed working,” he stressed.
In making the move to the law courts last Tuesday, BSTU President Mary Redman had said her members were “extremely angry and frustrated” over the ministry’s decision to dock their pay for taking part on April 5 in what they had dubbed a March of Respect to press their case for payment to correct school-based assessment (SBA) projects administered by the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC).