|Prime Minister Freundel Stuart????|
A Commission of Enquiry could be the decisive factor in solving the long-running dispute at the Alexandra School between the Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union and Principal, Jeff Broomes, once and for all.
Prime Minister Freundel Stuart announced that retired Court of Appeal Judge, Justice Frederick Waterman, has been chosen as the Commissioner during an after Cabinet press conference at Government Headquarters yesterday.
He told reporters that Cabinet decided that a Commission of Enquiry was the best way forward as tensions at the school remained "grave" months after he intervened in the dispute with the hope of brokering a solution.
Describing the retired jurist as "highly experienced," Mr. Stuart added: "We think that Justice Waterman has the right skills and know-how to plumb the depths of the matter and to advise us [government] and the Governor General wisely, on how this issue can be put on the path of an enduring solution.??
"Justice Waterman would also seek to find out how the general administration of education can be improved in terms of its relevance, legislation in its present form and other administrative challenges that, from time to time, raise its ugly head."
Noting that the 3rd term of the school year was a critical one, the Prime Minister gave the assurance that the timing of the Commission of Enquiry would not be conducted to disrupt the examination period.
Mr. Stuart also pledged to disclose further details about the Commission to the public shortly and maintained that the exercise was not a waste of taxpayers’ money, since "a number of recommendations could be made to eventually change the way things are done regarding a number of issues including the way principals are appointed to the schools in the future".
On the issue of the BSTU’s demand that Mr. Broomes should be separated from the school, the Prime Minister pointed to the legal implications of such a request.
"It would set a dangerous precedent, if on industrial relations alone, a government were to just wantonly decide to accede to the request of any set of workers to separate a supervisor or manager from his employment because they are unable to work comfortably with him.
"I prefer, and I have said it to teachers, that if there is a separation, that it must take account of the fact that we operate under and subscribe to the rule of law, and, therefore, if there has to be a separation eventually, legal grounds would have to be found for that separation.?? The grounds can only be found on evidence," he emphasised. ????
When Mr. Stuart was quizzed on why a decision was so long in coming, he remarked: "I said then and I say now we are in unchartered waters.?? Never before, in the post-Independence history or the pre-Independence history as I am aware has a union withdrawn the services of its workers on the pre-condition of a return to work that a manager has to be removed.?? If it has happened I have no recollection of it…this is unchartered territory.??
"Therefore, for the union and the government it was a new experience and there are legal implications to all that we are discussing…"
If teachers continue to withhold their labour, the Prime Minister said a contingency plan would be put in place to minimise any further disruption of teaching.
Mr. Stuart added that the commission of enquiry would provide the terms of reference wide enough to cover the investigation into all the issues that have been raised; while at the same time, give the Principal, board of management and teachers, the opportunity to give their side of the events.