As government-school teachers gear up for what is expected to be a short-lived protest action this morning, February 13 – over a number of issues, including school security and violence – a senior official considers their stance to be political and unfortunate.
In response to threats of industrial action in the form of a sit-in, Director of Education Clare Browne tells other media entities that the teachers taking such an action comes as a surprise, and he cites the number of engagements already held between the Ministry of Education and the Antigua and Barbuda Union of Teachers (A&BUT).
Given the authorities’ tenacious efforts to rectify the issues raised – which reportedly are evident by actions already in progress – this action is unfortunate, Browne says.
The Union held discussions last Thursday, February 9, and a decision was taken to stage the protest action until the Government engages the Union’s executive.
Teachers said they would return to the classroom once the Executive has been engaged, and the membership agreed to give its employers 21 days to address the issues – either by having them rectified within that time or proposing a plan and timeline for doing so.
If the Government fails to meet these demands satisfactorily at the end of the 21 days, the teachers pledged that industrial action will recommence.
Accordingly, to avert the threatened action by teachers, Browne has invited the Union’s executive to a meeting to be held this morning at 11 a.m.
Therefore, the Union has modified its protest, limiting the duration of the sit-in to the time the meeting with the Ministry commences, which it will communicate to the membership. At such time, the industrial action will be halted, according to a communication from the Union, which was sent to its membership yesterday, February 12.
The Union reminds teachers that the short sit-in should take place on the school compounds, in their staff rooms or other common areas, until the protest is stopped.
It will report to the membership at the conclusion of this initial meeting, and the Union expects the discussions to continue over the coming 21 days, as the Ministry and its affiliates outline their proposals for addressing the teachers’ issues.
Reports say the educators are frustrated over the recent upsurge in school violence; the state of teaching and the environment in which educators’ work; security and the quality of that security; negotiations for the 2018-2020 collective bargaining agreement; the election promise of long-outstanding teacher upgrades; and the head-of-department (HOD) honorarium – none of which is a new concern.
Meanwhile, officials claim that, of the 326 teachers eligible for upgrades, 301 have been completed, while the others are in progress.
Further, they note that 34 vouchers for HOD/ex-gratia payments have been prepared by the Ministry and are currently awaiting payment by the Treasury.
Reportedly, negotiations for the 2018-2020 contract have been ongoing with the Union, and a recommendation is being sent to the Cabinet for approval.