Recently, the Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union (BSTU) has been making statements in the media outlining its concerns with the Ministry of Education and Human Resource Development on its handling of industrial relations issues at the Alexandra School, and in particular the Ministry’s decision to deduct monies from teachers’ salaries who participated in strike action on January 5, 2010.?? The Ministry of Education has always acted in "good faith" on this sensitive issue and seeks to clear up any misconceptions that may have been encouraged by the comments emanating from the BSTU.??
It should be noted that the industrial relations dispute at the Alexandra School is an ongoing one, which dates as far back as 2006, when relations broke down between the BSTU and the principal of that school.
Since assuming office in December 2009 and January 2010, the acting Chief Education Officer Mr. Laurie King and the acting Permanent Secretary in the Ministry Mr. Guildford Alleyne respectively, held at least eight meetings with the BSTU, the Barbados Association of Principals of Public Secondary Schools (BAPPSS), the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) and the Principal of the Alexandra School, in an attempt to resolve outstanding issues.
Every effort was made to accommodate the BSTU at these meetings, and its representatives were allowed to determine the agenda of each meeting and indicate the order in which each item would be discussed.??
On June 1, 2010, at one such meeting, members of the BSTU walked out during discussions after they realised that one agenda item "Assurances on Fundamental Industrial Relations Matters" could not be discussed as the acting Permanent Secretary was out of the island on duty leave and had requested that this item be deferred to the next meeting when he could be present.
Subsequently, the BSTU submitted a letter dated June 3, 2010, indicating that a work to rule would be enforced at the school, pending the outcome of the proposed meeting with the Permanent Secretary.
This meeting was held on June 7, 2010.?? However, discussions again broke down as the BSTU stated that its representatives would have no further talks with the Ministry unless a letter dated May 17, 2010, sent to the BSTU by the Ministry of Education was withdrawn. The aforementioned letter referred to strike action which was taken by teachers at the Alexandra school on January 5, 2010, and the legal ramifications of such actions, which was the deduction of monies from the salaries of those who were on strike.
It should be noted that section 20 (2) of the Second Schedule of the Public Service Act 2007-41, states that "Officers shall not be paid for any day or portion of a day during which they are on strike."??
Additionally, the Ministry has been guided by section 15 (1) of the same Act which states: "Officers who are absent from duty without permission, except in the opinion of the Permanent Secretary or Head of Department the absence is due to illness or other unavoidable circumstances, are in breach of this Code, and their pay
may be reduced appropriately by the Permanent Secretary or Head of Department to take account of such absence."
After due consideration of the BSTU’s request to withdraw the letter and the Ministry’s inability to comply because of the stipulations of the Public Service Act, the BSTU informed the Ministry in a letter dated June 7, 2010, that it would be holding a series of meetings at its headquarters for its members at the Alexandra School, with effect from June 8 from 9:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
In response to this letter the Ministry reminded the BSTU by correspondence dated June 8 and June 14, that such action could prove disruptive to the school and undermine the delivery of quality education.?? The BSTU was also reminded of the stipulations for absent officers as outlined by the Public Service Act.
The Ministry was also especially concerned, as these meetings were scheduled to be held from 9:30 a.m. until 1:00 p.m. in Belleville, St. Michael and a normal school day at the Alexandra School in St. Peter begins at 8:35 a.m. and ends at 2:50 p.m.
Despite these reservations, the BSTU has continued to have meetings for teachers and as at June 22, has had five such meetings which obviously impacted on the children at the Alexandra School.
The Ministry has tried its utmost to resolve all matters which have been referred to it.?? The Ministry has further indicated to the BSTU that it is willing to meet with that organisation or any other entity to search for a resolution to the issues at the school.
The Ministry and the BSTU have agreed to meet on Wednesday, July 28, 2010, to deal with any outstanding matters.