Education Minister Daryl Matthew is hoping that teachers will return to the classrooms shortly, since their two main demands reportedly have been met.
Speaking in Parliament on Monday, April 17, Matthew sought to explain the genesis of the industrial action now being taken by public-school teachers, with support from the Antigua and Barbuda Union of Teachers (A&BUT).
Over a year ago, the minister reports, he consulted with the technical staff of the Ministry of Education and with the Union’s executive.
He subsequently took to the Cabinet a circulation note that sought permission to execute all teacher upgrades that had been outstanding for a number of years. These upgrades were reportedly approved in the first quarter of 2022, he says.
The compilation of a list of eligible teachers was then undertaken, and this took some time, he admits, since over 300 teachers were eligible. Reportedly, most of them were paid, leaving about 30 to receive their instruments, which would upgrade them to their new positions and their salary increases.
However, Matthew claims the Ministry of Education was not even aware that these teachers had not been upgraded and were not receiving their new salaries since no complaints had been made.
According to him, a list of the overlooked teachers was requested from the Union – which, he alleges, is yet to be delivered to the Ministry for further investigations through the Treasury.
Ex-gratia payments to some 34 teachers, the minister says, were guaranteed by the Treasury, with these sums to be paid by the end of March and the balances to be honoured by the end of this month, April.
Matthew says that 13 of those owed have already been compensated; and last Friday, April 14, the remaining teachers were issued their cheques.
Addressing the issue of school security, Matthew says that all the schools identified for proper lighting have been completed. Of those identified to have CCTV cameras installed, only seven, so far, have been completed, but installation is ongoing at the others.
Matthew blames a technical issue for the delay in the cameras’ erection. He notes that some of the work could not be done during regular school hours; therefore, it could not have been completed in its entirety at the time.
Pertaining to the fencing of two schools, Minister Matthew says the Sir Novelle Richards Academy and the Pares secondary School are being tackled; and he thanks National Housing for its intervention at Sir Novelle Richards Academy, where, he says, the fence should be completed within days.
Pares Secondary, on the other hand, will take some time, since the land has be surveyed among other things, Matthew says.
In the meantime, negotiations on the teachers’ collective bargaining agreement have recommenced, and discussions were reportedly held on April 17.
This agreement and teachers’ increments and salaries were two of the conditions identified as deal breakers. Once these were met, the protest action would end and teachers would return to the classroom.
Matthew says that both conditions have been met and teachers can, therefore, return to classes.
According to the minister, it is unfortunate that the educators had to take protest action that could impact students’ performance and the results of the upcoming CSEC examinations.
Meanwhile, international tourism workers who are currently in Antigua & Barbuda for the ITF’s Tourism Services Conference have declared their solidarity with the teachers.
The world’s tourism and transport workers are joining calls for the Ministry of Education to act immediately to resolve outstanding issues.
Additionally, the teachers’ action comes ahead of this Wednesday’s hosting of the 8th Council of Ministers of Education by Antigua and Barbuda. Accordingly, government officials are being pressured to have the local educators return to the classroom soonest.