After a turbulent, ten-year relationship with the longest-serving minister of education, there is little to indicate that teachers are better off under the nine-month-old administration, the head of this island’s largest teachers’ union has charged.
Barbados Union of Teachers BUT President Sean Spencer told Barbados TODAY that his members are increasingly frustrated that their longstanding concerns continue to be trivialized.
He said that the only difference between Ronald Jones’ stewardship and Santia Bradshaw’s ministry is that public relations spin now accompanies the continued brushing aside of their concerns.
Spencer said: “We are seeing a lot of PR but when one looks at the actual functionaries within the education system, we have not seen anything as yet to suggest that we are going in a different direction.”
Spencer said his concerns came to the fore at the Coleridge and Parry School in St Peter, after a section of the administration building had to be closed as bat droppings had infested the area.
The BUT leader said: “There are a host of environmental issues at that school, there has been bat droppings found. The administration block has been closed off as well as other areas of the school. There is also a report of a container with some sort of unidentified chemical contents. Staff are saying that they are feeling uneasy with the climate and environmental issues that are prevailing.”
Spencer stressed that while he is sympathetic to Minister of Education Santia Bradshaw, who is receiving treatment for breast cancer while staying on the job, action is urgently needed to diffuse what he described as a dire situation.
“These are matters that need to be addressed urgently and we would be making sure that our members are represented and that their concerns are addressed,” Spencer said. “We saw these same types of issues over the last decade at Lester Vaughn school where prior recommendations were made about maintaining a certain level of hygiene at the school and this had not been adhered to.
“It is the same thing in this case and when the situation gets out of control the ministry is being asked to step in, which they are often reluctant to do. We have a number of decaying plants; sick syndrome building is very much in the discussion but teachers are being asked to continue to deliver instruction as if conditions are salubrious.”
The trade unionist charged that under the Bradshaw’s ministry, teachers’ concerns about security and occupational health and safety play second fiddle to economic concerns.
He told Barbados TODAY: “Unfortunately, on the issues pertaining to occupational health and safety as well as security, the ministry’s response has been very alarming, not to mention harmful of teachers. The ministry is bent on placing the security of staff and students behind economic considerations and saving money.
“We are of the view that these things are not an expense but rather an investment. One has to be mindful that the working environment of teachers is the learning environment of students.”
Spencer also charged that the frequency with which public officers are shifted from one department to another made it almost impossible to follow up on teachers’ issues.
The BUT head spoke of having various meetings with a permanent secretary who was later transferred. The replacement official was also transferred, causing a number of government processes to be pushed back, resulting in “less continuity and less fluidity”.