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Impasse now debacle

Peter Simmons

Impasse now debacle

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TWO WEEKS AGO I wrote about the Alexandra School impasse, how it would disadvantage the students and should end without delay.
 Sadly, what was then a dispute between the Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union (BSTU) and the principal, Mr Jeff Broomes, has morphed into a national debacle escalating the students’ disadvantage and dragging down the industrial relations process.
 The students, caught in the crossfire, are still not being taught. Their parents, rightly so, assembled at the Ministry of Education on Wednesday and Thursday afternoon, seeking transfers for their children and threatening  further action. The country is behind them.
Barbados is a society with politics very much in command. At the St Lucy Church service Sunday launching Errol Barrow Week, Prime Minister Stuart told an anxious nation he would be acting urgently without fear or favour to end the impasse.
He established a ministerial committee chaired by Minister of  Education Ronald Jones and a meeting was called Wednesday morning at the ministry. The BSTU, which in a previous meeting sent a delegation of over 30, caused countrywide shockwaves by sending former president Phil Perry as its sole representative to “record the presence of the BSTU at the meeting” and hold a watching brief.
Unsurprisingly, when what the union describes as its “legitimate and valid emissary” announced why he was there “pandemonium broke loose” and he was ejected. BSTU president Mary Redman said their presence would have compromised them and their stand. So what was Mr Perry representing?
Their principal objection was sitting with Mr Broomes and his legitimate and valid representatives from the Barbados Association of Principals of Secondary Schools (BAPPSS) and the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW).
In Miss Redman’s pessimistic opinion, meeting with them “cannot solve this situation now. We are beyond that”.
Minister Jones, visibly shaken and angry, termed the no-show a “gross insult” and the low point of industrial relations practice in the trade union history of Barbados. Mrs Karen Best, president of the Barbados Union of Teachers (BUT), reportedly said she had never seen anything like it in industrial relations.
Her comments clearly indicate her union will not support the BSTU. For the first time that I can remember, there is a split among five unions – the BSTU and Barbados Workers Union (BWU) on one side, the BUT, BAPPSS and NUPW on the other.
The heads of both the BUT and NUPW agreed it was a sad day for industrial relations. One wonders who advises the BSTU. Public respect and support are crucial components in industrial relations struggles. Both evaporated rapidly with the no-show.
What would happen to Mr Broomes’ rights of natural justice if a meeting was held in an effort
to try to settle this matter and he and his legitimate representatives did not attend? Barbadians understand that in a democratic society if a just solution to a problem is being sought all parties must sit around the table to reason, hammer out the problems and find a solution.
It is unreal, pompous and flies in the face of reason for Miss Redman and her union to believe that they can determine who should be in discussion with the prime ministerial committee in an endeavour to end this debacle and return the school and its students to a state of normalcy.
However wide the divide and deep the animus, principle demands that both parties be present and issues thrashed out with the contending parties eyeball to eyeball to refute accusations made first-hand. It challenges logic, justice and fair play that one side should wantonly breach that principle.
Sending an agent is the same as if the sender was present making representation. Sending Mr Perry only to record the proceedings and hold a watching brief was a waste of man hours, apart from being very tenuous when seeking a solution to a situation daily impinging disastrously on Alexandra students.
Young people are famously dedicated followers of fashion. Lamentations are constantly heard about youths’ disregard for authority. The BSTU’s defiance of the Prime Minister and Minister of Education set a new example. Teachers are quintessential exemplars and mentors instilling discipline and respect for authority. In time to come, will they command the respect of students?
 To date, there has been no comment, no denial from the BSTU or the teacher involved in the matter to which Mr Broomes adverted, one of the progenitors of the debacle. Did she tell the principal that she would not teach a class and follow through for an entire term? And what really happened to his letters to the ministry on the subject?
This debacle brings industrial relations in Barbados to an unprecedented low. Meanwhile, over 800 children continue to be the main sufferers. Their education and good sense demand that the grandstanding ends and reason resumes its seat expeditiously.
Lord, please put a hand!
• Peter Simmons, a social scientist, is a former diplomat. Email [email protected]