Weighing in on an issue that he says others may see as being out of his league, outspoken advocate for the homeless, Kemar Saffrey is scolding the heads of teachers’ unions for not attending this week’s meetings between Ministry of Education officials and teachers.
Speaking in his capacity as a parent with children in the public school system, the president of the Barbados Alliance to End Homelessness told Barbados TODAY he was unimpressed that the Barbados Union of Teachers (BUT) and the Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union (BSTU) had, in his view, disrespected Minister Santia Bradshaw and other top ministry officials when they boycotted talks held at the Wildey Gymnasium on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.
“The unions were wrong to be a no-show,” he said.
Earlier this week, the union leaders said they felt disrespected by the Ministry because it had allegedly made the decision to bypass the unions and speak directly to their members.
The Ministry of Education had approached teachers last Thursday directly to invite them to three meetings, a day after it had informed the unions that their representatives would have ten meetings with education officials to discuss the start of the 2020-2021 academic year within a COVID-19 environment and to hear their concerns.
BUT president Pedro Shepherd described the move by the Ministry as an underhanded attempt to “divide and rule”. While the BSTU condemned the Ministry’s approach with the explanation that there were members in “great fear” at the prospect of sharing an enclosed space with more than 2 000 people in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Yes, you stand up for what you believe in, but it is disrespectful to the Ministry if they are saying that the Ministry is disrespectful to them. And not only is it a disrespect to the Ministry, it is also disrespect to those who they represent. While they say the executive made a decision, is the executive only the body?” Saffrey contended.
“Yes, the unions set up the executive to make decisions on their behalf, but you are talking when you are in a unique position like COVID; and if the Ministry and the Minister see it fit to open dialogue, whether the numbers or the venue change, let’s see how we can jump on it because there may be reasons surrounding these decisions. Maybe the Ministry may not have time to do ten meetings but can only do three. Are the unions playing politics?” he questioned.
Noting that, in the past, dialogue between teachers and the Ministry of Education was almost non-existent, Saffrey said it was commendable that Minister Bradshaw took the time to listen to teachers.
“When things happen in Barbados we call the Ministers out. But when the Ministers open dialogue we condemn them. I don’t think that the Minister was looking at whether or not big numbers turn out. The fact [is] that who had to say what they wanted to say turned up, who had to hear what the Ministry had to say turned up, and that is success. It isn’t outlined by whether 5 000 or 10 000 turned up. Those teachers that had something to say to their employer turned up and that is something that I commend the teachers for,” he said.
Saffrey said while the unions may not always get what they call for, they should attend significant meetings such as those held this week.
“The unions do play a critical role, but it should never be [that] the teachers cannot go directly to their employer. The unions should still turn up as the representative body and show support or solidarity as it relates to their members, even if they don’t show solidarity and respect to the Ministry,” he insisted.
“Some of the unions have lost their way as it relates to how they dialogue and we, as parents, are watching. We want to know that teachers that are teaching our children are quite comfortable teaching our children and they are also quite comfortable knowing that they have gotten what they need to get off their chest … to their employer, and that is critical. I think that that step that I see the union taking is not one that we should be promoting.” ([email protected])