Even though Government has stuck to its promise that teachers would not be touched, retrenchment in the public service has taken a serious toll on the school system, president of the Barbados Union of Teachers (BUT) Sean Spencer has charged.
This morning Spencer revealed that since Government opted to send home 34 of the 43 general workers in the primary school system, occupational safety and basic tasks at several schools, are now compromised. As a matter of fact the BUT president told Barbados TODAY that the situation has got to the point where teachers and parents were now cutting grass at some schools to have them ready for the new term.
“We are left with nine general workers to look after 80-plus schools and it is really a poor situation. I can tell you that at one school, at least one or two teachers and members of the ancillary staff, have been pressed into service. You also have parents cutting grass at some of these schools, which are rural schools and therefore require specialized equipment,” he said.
General workers are tasked with the responsibility of repairing damaged furniture, moving heavy equipment around the school and assisting with the general maintenance of the compound. With the removal of the majority of them from all primary schools and some secondary, several of the country’s learning institutions are in a deplorable state, the teachers’ advocate charged.
“We have a state of neglect because we have grass which has been unattended for the past three weeks during the Christmas recess and the school plants are overrun in some cases. This is a situation that we have long lobbied against allowing to happen,” said Spencer, who warned that the current situation did not augur well for the summer maintenance programme.
The BUT president lamented that even without the challenge of less general workers, the summer maintenance programme was poorly run and he therefore feared things getting worse.
“It really doesn’t spell well for what is to come in the school’s summer maintenance programme, which the Ministry [of Education] undertakes every year. That has been inadequate where it starts late and some of the work has not been completed while the completed works have been compromised by either inferior material or poor workmanship,” Spencer explained.
Last month vice-president of the Congress of Trade Unions and Staff Associations of Barbados (CTUSAB) and former president of the BUT, Pedro Shepherd first raised the issue. He charged at the time that the retrenchment process under the International Monetary Fund (IMF) approved Barbados Economic Recovery and Transformation (BERT) programme, had resulted in untenable work conditions for teachers across the educational system.
“The general workers in the educational system also assist the janitorial staff in terms of removing large garbage receptacles. So what we are seeing now are schools with litter thrown all over the place with grass areas now growing out of control,” Shepherd told Barbados TODAY then.
The former BUT president contended: “Whereas teachers might not be affected upfront, we are seeing that there is some added pressure to the system. This movement of general workers for example now poses the problem of health and safety… We have very large schools, 500-plus students and the work of the general worker is extremely critical.”
Shepherd also claimed that clerk typists have been sent home from schools as well as the Ministry of Education, resulting in an increased burden on teachers. He explained that these shortcomings were not only visible in schools but also affected the efficiency of the Ministry of Education.
Recently, Spencer also revealed that government’s decision to send home a number of security guards from schools across the island had compromised the safety of teachers. This concern came into focus earlier this week when teachers at one rural school were forced to flee when an intruder entered a classroom and threatened staff on the premises for a meeting.
“A number of the staff members, both teaching and non-teaching members of staff [found themselves] having to secure themselves basically to escape what seemed to be some mentally-challenged individual,” Spencer recalled.