Peace may be breaking out between some Barbados unions and government before disagreements get to break out into a labour war, but there are signs that niggling issues simmer and could possibly create open hostilities.
The Barbados Secondary Teachers Union, one of two teachers’ unions that have for a long time been at odds with government on several issues and which had recently staged a public march to highlight their grievances that the authorities are ignoring, declared a victory of sorts Tuesday when Ministry of Education officials finally agreed to sit and talk.
“Our march has already reaped benefits. Because in short order we have gotten a meeting to deal with the problems at the St. George Secondary School,” BSTU President Mary Redman said before entering the meeting.
She emerged from the four-hour talks pleased at progress and told the media, “I hope this is an indication of things to come.
“Teachers told me that this is the first time that they felt listened to. They are saying that they feel liberated and they feel as if something would come out of this,” she added.
In the Tuesday meeting Redman and her team discussed with Ministry of Education officials matters relating to discipline in schools, inadequate curriculum, and environmental problems.
But, there was no report that talks at this closed-door session included negotiations on the thorny issue of teachers’ demand for pay to mark School-Based Assessments for the Caribbean Examinations Council.
Teachers want extra pay for marking the SBAs as they see the task as added work that goes beyond their job description.
Government has stoutly refused, and the union has ordered its members to stop correcting and submitting the SBAs.
There is also the issue of a reported intention of the Ministry of Education to dock part pay for teachers this month because of the time they took off for their march.
BSTU has insisted that the salaries of teachers must not be touched.
Responding to that march, Education Minister Ronald Jones had however said, “If you don’t work I can’t see how you can be paid.”
Meanwhile, the other labour body representing the island’s teachers, Barbados Union of Teachers, has reportedly demanded a 12 percent increase in salaries.
The Nation newspaper on Wednesday quoted BUT President Pedro Shepherd saying that such demand is ‘reasonable to ask for at this time’, and arguing that these educators have not received a pay increase since 2009.
Shepherd said his union is basing its demand for the 12 percent increase on a review of the economy between the years 2008 to 2016 done by Professor Andrew Downes, a recently-retired professor of economics and pro-vice chancellor for Planning and Development at the University of the West Indies.
“We are confident that having gotten the analysis of the economy done that the 12 percent is reasonable to ask for at this time,” Shepherd said as he insisted on the increase despite the Prime Minister Freundel Stuart’s administration’s repeated cry that the government is broke.
“Even if we had a one per cent increase, the government would still say they have no money,” Shepherd said.
But aside from the demands and simmering issues for teachers, the Barbados government is yet to officially respond to demands of the National Union of Public Workers that is requesting a 23 percent salary increase for its 9,000 members.