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SVGTU head says the strike was successful, but PM says teachers who were to turn up, turned up

SVGTU head says the strike was successful, but PM says teachers who were to turn up, turned up
Left - Oswald Robinson, Right - PM Ralph Gonsalves

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The leadership of the St Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers Union (SVGTU), buoyed by what it said was a successful strike this week is aiming to take this tail wind into a planned protest today, Friday December 10.

But while the leadership of the SVGTU is making one claim about the success of its two day strike, Prime Minister Dr Ralph has related a totally different story.

Gonsalves said on radio that reports from officials at the Ministry of Education are that all schools opened on Tuesday and functioned well because “overwhelmingly, the teachers who were to turn up, turned up”.

“… As you know, there are some persons who are unvaccinated and who did not; naturally, their term would’ve come to an end…their term of employment, because they would not have taken the vaccine by the close of day on Friday 3rd and that number includes close to 200 who sought exemptions,” he said on NBC radio on Wednesday morning.

The prime minister also said he did not think there was any increase in the number of teachers staying away from classes on Wednesday — the second of two days that teachers were asked by their union not to turn up to work as part of ongoing opposition to the government’s COVID-19 vaccine policy.

Just a few hours later, president, Oswald Robinson said at a press conference that over 50 per cent of schools responded to the union’s call to strike and that numbers were increasing. He, however did not give the number of teachers who stayed away from class.

On the second day of strike, the union’s president reported that “we have another 10 per cent increase which is preliminary because we got this report very early this morning”.

“What happened yesterday, there were some schools who had already given parents commitment that they were going to do their tests so they didn’t really want to break that…commitment. So some of the schools, they administered the test and then went home and strike,” Robinson said.

He also said that “sometimes there is some flexibility, some understanding, being flexible to certain things, in the height of an action. So the momentum is there. I know for a fact, there are some schools who had 85 per cent of the staff; I actually got figures. On one occasion, they said 15 teachers were away from work, only four who showed up…”

Robinson expressed confidence that the Union is creating an impact and that “the government right now is puzzled because I am very confident in going forward with these matters…”

He said the Union was neither daunted nor discouraged in its efforts to stand against the vaccine policy which requires teachers and several other categories of public workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19 if they are to continue working in their respective posts.

Friday, December 3 was the final day for these workers to take a vaccine in order to keep their jobs. But the union, in ongoing rejection of this policy called out teachers to sit in and to stay away from the classroom.

The union plans to follow this up with a protest today, Friday, December 10 at the Vegetable Market in Kingstown.

While the exact figures are unclear, the Prime Minister said this week that of the 2000 teachers in this country, the number of unvaccinated teachers are likely to be fewer than 320. 

In correspondence to its membership on December 5, teachers in the Grenadines were also encouraged to picket on the respective islands. 

Robinson said at Wednesday’s press conference that the SVGTU continues to mobilise all sectors of the economy, civil society groups and churches to join in the protest today. 

“We are awaiting a response from the Commissioner of Police in terms of permission to use amplified sound. We have not asked for permission to picket because a trade union has that role to perform under the trade union act to picket. What we asked permission for is to use amplified sound so we are awaiting that response,” he said. 

“We will start at 9:30 all decked in black and we will surround the vegetable market in Kingstown. No interference with the traffic, it is one that is peaceful. We expect that some of the church leaders who will be there would start off the day with prayers and a few little singing. We will enjoy ourselves and have fun but at the same time, we will send a clear message to the government of St Vincent and the Grenadines,” Robertson declared.

Robinson said the series of actions is to have the government overturn its mandatory vaccine policy which is affecting teachers.

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