delivered by Sis. Mary Redman
|Specially invited guests, Mr. John Blackman (past President of the BSTU and retired Principal of Deighton Griffith School), Mr. Ralph Jemmott (retired head of Department, renowned History teacher at Harrison College and well known Social commentator) and our own Bro. Patrick Frost, welcome.
We also want to welcome our retired members who steadfastly continue to support the efforts of their BSTU.
Welcome to the media and we look forward to full coverage of our event.
And a very special welcome to you our brothers and sisters in the BSTU and to others who may be joining us today from other unions as well as those workers not affiliated to any. We hope by the end of today that what you would have participated in here would have contributed to changing that status.
Since the last TPD, so much has happened and has been said by so many, especially those who should know better, that we should have been forced to ask ourselves: "Who in authority is promoting the concept of teachers as professionals as we continue to struggle under the most difficult of circumstances to fulfil our responsibilities?" Who is demonstrating any care and concern for us as we battle with increasing intensity to do so much with so little …. escalating indiscipline, no chalk, no paper, no ink, no chemicals in the labs, no soap or hand-towels in our bathrooms, serious threats to our persons and property at the workplace on a daily basis …. From whom in authority is there any demonstrated concern for our plight and recognition and support for our sterling efforts? How are they promoting acknowledgment and respect from persons in the wider society for our efforts?
The answer is that they have not ...instead, during the last year, more than at any other point in time that I can remember, we have been demeaned and belittled, not so much by the public as they are often wont to do ...but by those very persons who have direct responsibility for us and who should be — by their example — defending and uplifting us in the public eye. Those persons who know, or should know (depending on to what extent they truly make themselves privy to the real goings-on in schools) how difficult our task is and who objectively know how minuscule any real forthcoming assistance from them is. The Minister of Education, instead of leading by example and offering us encouragement, has instead publicly criticised and threatened us … we have been warned that we should not think that we "cannot be touched", that our Unions cannot come onto school premises, that we cannot continue our associations and relationships with the press … that there exists the possibilities not only of vicious and punitive transfers done in a way that our brother Ralph Jemmott here so masterfully described as "an unparalled act of lunacy" but — in the wilder mothings — we stand the risk of "having our heads cracked open" and being "shot"! Unfortunate, to say the very least, but certainly demonstrative of an uncompromising, unsupportive and hostile attitude. An attitude that has been extended towards fundamental freedoms taken as par for the course by workers in this country and a clear signal that now, more than at any other time in our recent history, we must afford ourselves of the membership, protection and support of our teacher Trade Unions.
There seems to be open warfare against us as teachers and against our representative bodies by some, not all, of those responsible for our very professional well-being and ironically from those who themselves headed organisations that purported to represent the interests of teachers. To the best of my knowledge, never before has the Ministry of Education had so many past trade unionists at its helm and all at the same time(albeit all of them being past Presidents of one particular Union)..yet, ironically, never before have so many backward, regressive anti-worker mouthings and policies emanated from that office.
The Nation newspaper of 9th September, 2013 carried an article entitled "Angry Jones" in which the Minister of Education admonished the President of the BUT for highlighting the unreadiness at the beginning of the school year of a particular St. John primary school. The minister lambasted Bro. Shepherd and — in typical style — went on to warn both teachers and principals not to bring the Unions or the press on the school premises.
The Minister's comments are cause for concern to teacher Trade Unions on a number of levels and for a number of reasons. Some of these range from his blatant disregard for the constitutional rights of Barbadians to Freedom of Association; to the disregard of the ILO Conventions 87 and 98 (which deal with the Freedom of Association and the Right to Organise and the Right to Collective bargaining). Barbados is a signatory to these conventions which we have also ratified, this means that the principles espoused in them are reflected in our laws; yet the Minister would, by those very statements, seek to act ultra vires of the law and contrary to custom and practice in this country. He is also attempting to micro-manage at the level of the school and erode the power of the principals to make professional decisions and act on them. Who is he to unilaterally determine what is positive or negative work by any Union and to use that as a precondition for teachers to have representation in their workplace?
His statement also reflects a total disregard for the status of the Unions as equal partners in our Social Partnership. He goes against the very principle of Government being the model employer as outlined in the Protocols, the document that binds the partners together in a social compact as they work towards an improved industrial relations climate to achieve growth, development and equity in this society. How could an agent of the "model employer" be engaged in acts that deny workers some of their most basic and fundamental rights? These acts contradict the whole notion of model employment... and where are the admonishments and sanctions against him for such threats to an espoused and celebrated philosophy of governance in this country from those in a position to do so?
Well in spite of the public field day in relation to those comments on the radio and in the print media, the Chief Education Officer — almost three weeks later — circularised the schools expressing similar comments but confined his to restricting the presence of the press in schools. Again, such a directive goes against the constitutional rights of teachers and against custom and practice. The Ministry, among other things, is here trying to act as moderator for ALL statements coming from schools and encroaches on the access of persons to free speech. Our response to the Chief Education Officer in relation to this circular reads as follows:
The Barbadian public, as free and entitled citizens, has spoken loudly and eloquently on the many other aspects of foolhardiness in relation to the above comments by the Minister.
The only other comment of particular note to us in the Chief's Circular is his section 2(x) which states: "Principals should remind teachers that they must record their times in the appropriate book when they arrive at school;"
Our response stated:
That was an abbreviated form of a long document outlining our position which was written to the Ministry in May, 2009.
In relation to the rest of the Circular the BSTU had to chide the Chief with these words:
It just goes to show the total lack of caring, regard and respect from top officials … an attitude that permeates so much of what is said and done at that Ministry in recent times.
That ends our discourse on that much talked about circular.
As we move through another school year, we caution the Ministry of Education to concern itself with our professional needs and not to get "tied up" with minutiae. We don't need to be signing registers …especially those that cannot take into consideration where our workplace is and when our real times of work begin and end! Everyone knows that we do so much of our work at home and that our work does not stop when we leave the premises!
What we really need is the proper attention to be paid to our professional status and well-being:
...and finally and very importantly, I will quote from the same reply to the Chief's Circular … our concluding paragraph which was not a response to anything written but an opportunity to reinforce something we feel very strongly about the following:
In fact, we could add to this another very important recommendation from the Waterman Report, that which states that the consideration should be given to the strategic reorganisation of the Ministry of Education and the focussing of its staff so that the ministry operates more proactively and is more responsive to issues faced by the stakeholders in the school. He also goes on to say that the Ministry's senior staff should be trained in alternative dispute resolution.
Colleagues, Brothers and Sisters, the struggle continues. We need to fully support each other, especially as we move into increasingly uncertain economic times. The union will have to find novel ways to render assistance where it can.
We underscore the need for persons to join their colleagues and to strengthen the BSTU ...our strength lies in our determination, our numbers and unity. Let us, as always, uphold our professionalism while demanding our rights and protecting our interests.
delivered by Sis. Mary Redman
|Good morning and welcome to all of you here today. A special welcome to Mr. Roderick Nurse, our Sagicor representative, who today will launch, at last, our medical Insurance Plan through the BSTU Credit Union. We are extremely happy and very "fussy" about this. It has been a long time coming and we are very excited since it offers one of the best Medical health policies around,one million dollars in coverage with very affordable premiuims, but you will get the details later. welcome any members of our distinguished panel who might already be here … their official welcome will come later. We especially welcome our retired members and are, as always, very happy to have you with us. Your presence and contribution at our events make us especially proud and we honour and respect the insight and experience that you always bring to our proceedings.
We welcome our friends in the Press, we ask that you cover us fully and fairly and invite you to socialize with us when this part of the proceedings is over. Welcome to our actively employed members. You are the union's future and your presence here today signals a commitment to its continued legacy, to moving the organization forward. As our programme indicates, we are certainly taking that aspect of our business here today very seriously as we look at our Strategic Plan: to move the BSTU forward in its sixty-fifth year. You, the younger members of the BSTU, will be the ones to actively assist in the implementation of the Plan and to the effective continuation of this Union.
I know too that some of you younger members are not aware that you have the distinct honour to constitute the second oldest Union in this country. The BWU is only just a few years (8) older than we are. We are not a big Union like they are but we are one that Comrade Bobby Morris admiringly describes as "punching far above our weight" . We are a responsible, mature, respected Union and one that in our 65 years of existence, has been responsible for most of the rights and entitlements enjoyed by ALL teachers in this country and for influencing much of what is positive in educational practice and policy. I shall take this opportunity now to ask that all here encourage others and come along with those "others" to the week of activities that our very hard working Committee has planned to celebrate this signal achievement of 65 years of meaningful existence.
The theme of the celebrations is "Through the years and beyond" and a variety of activities are planned, including: There On 23rd October at 8:00 a.m. there will be a Church service at St. Cyprian's Church to start the week off. On Tuesday, 25th October, there will be an awards Ceremony here at Solidarity House 6:30 p.m. At this ceremony there will also be a cultural presentation where some of the featured performances will highlight the talent of members.
On Wednesday, 26th October at 7:30p.m., there will be a panel discussion, again at Solidarity House, The topic will be: "The Role of Teacher Trade Unions 2011 and Beyond". Distinguished panelists include: Robert Morris, Patrick Frost and Marguerite Cummins Williams. There will also be some "culture" that night as well.
Friday 28th is the big back-in-time bash… put on the Afro wigs, dashikis, minis, and all the retro clothes that are fashionable now and come … There will be a prize for the "backest in time person" …that will be at 9:00p.m. at Queen's College … just like back in the day we shall say .."C and B there!" ... I truly doubt that there will be any "Jonesing" but instead nuff "wuk up", so come out, support and contribute to the success of this event.
You will notice that this year we have deviated a bit from our usual TPD programme format. We do not have a featured guest speaker, instead we decided to have conversations with our membership on a different level…conversations intended to sensitise you, involve you, motivate you and empower you. First, I shall speak to you of our union activities and concerns and there will be a brief clarification session afterwards. The outline of the main areas of the Strategic Plan will follow. Then Mr. Nurse will "do his thing" in relation to the Medical insurance plan. Finally, in recognition of the fact that our members always need information and clarification on issues related to their professional status, as well as to share on these issues, we decided on a quite extensive interactive session with a panel of experts to facilitate this.
In relation to the most recent work of your Union, the last year has been one full of activity for the BSTU, during which time — and despite limited resources — the executive has continued to fight to defend and uphold the rights of our members, ensure professionalism in the workplace and attempt to influence and improve educational policy and practice as they operate locally. To do all this has not been easy: we are operating in increasingly difficult times and within the confines of seemingly innumerable constraints, such as:
I need to say that during the last year, certain outstanding matters affecting this Union have not been addressed by those concerned at the Ministry of Education (MoE). There has been no follow-through; instead their hesitation to act has been evident. The MoE consistently demonstrates the attitude that they will only REACT to situations, they seem yet to appreciate the strategic value of being proactive and thus avoiding the upheaval, dislocation and ill-will which results from being reactionary. Moreover, when the MoE does REACT, it is hardly ever done in a timely fashion so as to prevent what is often preventable.
There are very important outstanding issues which requires collaboration between the BSTU and MoE, and the latter continues to defer setting any meeting dates to address such issues. It has been approximately a full calendar year since the Ministry last met with the Union, and there are still on-going issues to resolve concerning the Alexandra School.
What is perhaps not so ironic — and certainly not unexpected — is that as soon as the appraisal process ended at the school, the Principal reverted to his customary behavior, adopting a course of action which — at the start of Term 2 of the last academic year — necessitated an emergency meeting between the Chief Education Officer and the majority of the Heads of Department at the school. That meeting was held in January. Up until now we have had no feedback from the investigations that were to have been carried out immediately after that meeting.
To get back to the Institutional Inspection process: Up until now, the teachers at the Alexandra School have not had any copy of the so-called final report made available to them, even though the understanding was clear at a meeting called by the Chairman of the Inspection committee with the staff to present the draft summary. It is instructive that the meeting was a fiery one in which many staff members vocally expressed their disagreement with the findings of the committee as not faithfully representing the information that they would have provided in interviews and not representing the reality of the climate and culture of the school. Some of the staff members even communicated in writing these same concerns to the Chairman of the Committee. Given the existing circumstances, they have not been able to ascertain whether these concerns have been translated and included in final draft. But it does not stop there, the Union's representative on that Inspection Committee had grave concerns regarding the process and also wrote to the BSTU on the matter. The BSTU wrote to the MoE and re-iterated the concerns of our representative and up until now he too, as a member of the Committee, has not seen the so-called final draft. Neither he nor the BSTU has been afforded a copy of said document. Some of his concerns included, and I quote from his letter:
The MoE must understand that the issues at the Alexandra school will not go away. As long as these issues are not addressed, the conditions at the school will only continue to deteriorate. The Union has a struggle on its hands to keep things on an even keel at the school. The staff is fed-up and wants an end to the existing situation there. We have been very accommodating of the MoE and have even allowed time for the new acting Permanent Secretary to get acquainted with the situation there. We have given her time and had a briefing with her after which she was to set a meeting date with the BSTU and the Alexandra staff. Over a month has passed and we are hoping that in this Education Month, we will be afforded word of such a meeting as soon as schools re-open. The MoE must take note that we have been extremely patient and accommodating but we are sending a message that our patience is running out … our goodwill is running out …the teachers at the Alexandra School are hardworking and committed professionals who need to have their concerns addressed.
Another area of concern to us is the matter of longstanding overdue appointments. There is the untenable situation whereby now — moreso than at anytime in the past — there are more persons acting in temporary positions in schools. We have some schools with persons who have been acting for ten and fourteen years who still wait in vain for their appointment. The implications for these persons' entitlements are obvious and this matter has to be addressed by those responsible. We also need our teachers acting in posts of special responsibility to be compensated for their hard work, so many of them are performing those duties and have not received their allowances. We are calling on the Boards of Management, Personnel Administration Division and the Public Service Commission to act and remedy this injustice. THE BSTU welcomes the revision of the Public Service Act, which we hope will redress such matters.
The MoE needs to meet us in relation to the grievance procedure against the Principal at Harrison College. This involves a matter that tramples the fundamental rights of one of our members there. Up until now, we cannot get to meet with them to address this issue. We are saying to the Ministry that they need to act in a manner that demonstrates more care and concern for those over whom they have a professional responsibility. The constant delay in addressing our members' issues reeks of disrespect of and disregard for the well-being of their workers and the agencies that represent them. Justice delayed is justice denied and their actions are not in keeping with the spirit of the Protocol which holds Government up as the model employer. MoE officials must appreciate that this enjoins them as it relates to their relationship with government workers and other stakeholders.
This attitude, sad to say, goes beyond the MoE to some other Government Departments with which this Union has to interact… and we are saying that to a great extent the larger Public Service must understand that they have a moral and industrial relations responsibility to deal expeditiously with workplace issues that affect the overall well-being of the work-force. They, as agents of the Government of Barbados as employer, are bound by that commitment of Government to be the model employer, as espoused in Protocols Five and Six. These successive Protocols signify a philosophy and approach to governance and economic and social development in this country that are envied by many. As a social compact, the Protocols exceed the significance and importance of legal contracts because they bind entities and people at the highest level possible: the moral level. They bind them at the level of good-will, mutual respect, altruism and patriotism. When then these ideas and ideals are not appreciated and practiced by the agents of those signatories, then it makes a mockery of the whole idea and exercise. On the other hand when the agents of Government as employer are not even aware of the contents of those Protocols then it begs the question: "Can they be blamed?" Government needs to ensure that those acting on its behalf are sensitized and familiarized with the contents, tenets and philosophies of the Protocol, so that it truly moves from being a paper document to a practiced policy….This need is no more evident than at the level of "Education" in this country. The time, effort and energy expended on Protocol 6 must translate into a process that moves industrial relations forward in this country and leads to a revitalized and effective industrial relations climate...an industrial relations climate based on mutual respect for and of all stakeholders, timely and effective action, proactivity and a commitment to collaboration towards progress for all.
On another note, I want to say that the BSTU has also been working to address the problem existing with the CXC Geography school-based assessments at the Foundation School. The Union has, through correspondence, requested a meeting with the Registrar to address the issue and to make recommendations for the future. We have had a history of communication and collaboration with the CXC. So far, however, the Registrar has not responded in the manner that we would have hoped and we are presently in the process of drafting a response to the organization to be sent off next week.
Finally, I will say briefly that the BSTU fully supports the condemnation of the ill-discipline being experienced in schools and the wider society as expressed by the Minister of Education. We have spoken at length, at the level of the Ministry of Education, the media and beyond about the problems. I will not repeat myself here except to say that we are willing to sit and meet with MoE officials to implement some mutually agreed remedies in this regard.
I thank you for your patience as I tried to inform and sensitise you about our on-going work.I hope that I did not ramble too much in the process ..and that I have been able in some way to motivate, especially the young ones to be an active part of that work we do for those who affect the world ..those who teach.
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