FULL STORY:Yes, Prime Minister
For the first time since the start of the new school term on January 4, a full complement of teachers is expected back in the classroom at Alexandra School tomorrow.
Yesterday’s announcement by Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, which brings to an end the crippling strike by 30 unionized members of the school’s teaching staff, is welcome relief for some 800 students at the St Peter institution who have lost out on a total of 15 teaching days so far this year.
However, president of the Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union (BSTU), Mary Redman, while promising the Prime Minister that “every minute” of teaching time would be made up, cautioned that impasse was far from over.
Redman, who has been adamant all along that principal Jeff Broomes must be separated from the school, pointed out that the return to work by her members was only Stage 1 of the corrective process.
“The fact that we have agreed to this means that we know what is to come, [but] I am not at liberty to say,” she told the DAILY NATION shortly after the Prime Minister’s announcement.
“I will defer and respect the Prime Minister’s position for him to announce what else is to come, but the fact that we have gone back with the possibility of Mr Broomes still being in office means that we are giving the process time to work and we are committed to the integrity of the process, and we have faith in the goodwill negotiations and bargaining that took place over the weekend.
“We have no doubts that the Prime Minister will follow through as he has promised.”
Earlier, Stuart told reporters he had had a lengthy meeting with the BSTU Friday and again on Saturday and Sunday, and had listened carefully to its core members and other teachers, some of whom had broken down in tears while speaking to him about “abuses” at the school.
He said their complaints were consistent with the problems hinted at in the Inspection Report that was submitted to the ministry last year, as well as a report from the board of management, adding that he hoped the ministry would use the recommendations of the Inspection Report to do what must be done.
When asked if he had met with principal Jeff Broomes or his representatives, the National Union of Public Workers and the Barbados Association of Principals of Public Secondary Schools (BAPPSS), Stuart said: “I don’t get involved in circus. The BSTU and its teachers were on strike . . . . If any solution to the strike problem was going to be found, it had to be found through the BSTU, not through the NUPW, BWU, BUT, BAPPSS or papps or anybody else,” he said.
Pressed for a time frame in which the dispute would be resolved, the Prime Minister responded that the problems at Alexandra had not surfaced overnight and therefore could not be solved by waving a magic wand. “There are follow-up actions that must be taken to secure a genuine long-term and enduring settlement of this issue, and I am determined to follow it day by day to ensure that those steps that have to be taken are taken and that the causes of offence are brought under effective control.”
“This is a stubborn and difficult problem, which has taken a long time to take shape and to mature, and we’re confronting it head-on,” said the Prime Minister.He disclosed that the teachers had expressed a willingness to return to school yesterday but it was his decision for them to return to classes tomorrow so that the Parent-Teacher Association, principal and non-striking teachers would have time to make the necessary adjustments to ensure a smooth, uneventful re-entry. He commended the teachers for having computed the time lost and for their firm assurance to make it up to the students, but expressed concern about the fact that children had been drawn into the “circus” between contending adult parties.
“I know of no precedent of this kind in the education sector of Barbados. I think it is a matter of grave importance that children be kept out of these things, and I do not like – and I want to place on record my profound disappointment – that the students have been dragged, kicking and screaming in some cases, into an issue that is really an issue between adults. That is bound to make the process of reintegration of the teachers who were on strike a little more difficult.”
Stuart said the 63-year-old BSTU had done itself proud in relation to its long history. “I think unions have rights in matters of this kind and have the right to properly represent the interests of its constituents and the Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union did no more than that.”