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Support could have been better – SVGTU President

Support could have been better – SVGTU President

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President of the St Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers Union (SVGTU) Oswald Robinson will now await direction from his membership, following industrial action earlier this week that saw only 20 per cent of teachers responding to the call to strike.

In an interview with {{more}}SEARCHLIGHT on Wednesday, one day after his union and the Public Service Union’s (PSU) called on their members to stay away from work, Robinson acknowledged that support from the membership could have been better.

“…The support could have been better, but given the divide in the country through politics, people think of their party before their union,” Robinson stated.

The union head said even though Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves called the protest a failure, that is not the case, as the absence of teachers and students at some schools created a disruption that sent a message where the unions wanted it to go.

“A particular school that had 15 teachers and 10 of the 15 did not go to work. So to say we didn’t create an impact that’s wrong. There were schools that closed half day.”

Robinson said in his opinion, the strike “worked out quite well, but it could have been better”.

He said that a number of schools had to merge classes while a principals’ meeting scheduled by the Ministry of Education had to be cancelled so that the school heads could go back to help out with classes at the institutions they control.

“Some schools had a few students, some less than 50 per cent of the student population and some teachers went to work because of fear and some went and didn’t do work, while some teachers tried to influence students to come to school saying we have exams… all types of strategies were tried.”

The union head however denied that he himself had threatened teachers through a statement issued Sunday night when he told teachers that if they chose to go to school they do so at their own risk.

“…You will not be protected by the trade union because the trade union has issued a statement to stay off the job,” he stated then.

“When I said that, it was caution and not a threat. Why would I threaten teachers?” asked Robinson.

He noted that the industrial action received regional coverage which was one of their objectives.

“We had regional coverage and one of objectives of the resolution was to bring regional, local and international attention to the issue.”

In relation to the members of his executive who reportedly ignored the call to strike, Robinson said he found it strange that some executive members and persons who voted for the protest action did not go through with what they themselves had called for.

“The initiative for this action came from the executive and one of the persons who really came out front to say let us do it, is one of those who went to work. I mean, the executive accepted it and demanded it, now they see it in action, they tried not to comply,” Robinson pointed out during Wednesday’s interview.

The other members of Robinson’s nine-member executive are Sheldon Govia, first vice president; Kent Caine, second vice president; Margaret Lewis-Jackson, general secretary; Vibert Lampkin, treasurer; Wendy Bynoe, public relations officer; Jane Farrel, assistant general secretary; and Maxford Jones and Sharon Doyle, committee members.

SEARCHLIGHT understands that four members of the executive were on the job on Tuesday, while a fifth is on vacation leave.

Robinson said that the decision to strike was not taken by him alone, but was arrived at through a resolution passed on ‘Branch Day’ which gave the executive the mandate to “demand the money” by any means necessary.

“…so the executive went ahead and implemented this mandate because we had a quorum at the meeting. We had over 60 teachers, close to 75 and we cannot make decisions without a quorum,” explained the President while adding, “the resolution came from the floor to demand and do all that is necessary and once given that mandate we had to carry it out.

“…The decision was made and the majority rules. I am subject to the decision so I by myself can’t overrule it. I can ask to reconsider a decision but I am only one person and this is about an organisation and an organisation is much bigger than one member. I am ruled by a majority vote,” stressed Robinson.

He said in his view, a number of teachers played politics with the issue and turned up to work wearing colours associated to their political party while making political statements.

“It was amazing to see it, the political dress – it was like the union is having a political battle.”

He said that the Prime Minister made a public statement that members of his executive were texting him (the Prime Minister) about their objection to the strike, while some persons changed their minds overnight after phone calls made to them.

“It’s sad. I mean people feel nice when they talk to politicians but what they must realize is that they get their name called after and if we have private information being divulged by executive members to politicians, that is bad.”

Stating that he is not blaming anyone for divulging privileged information, Robinson said the Prime Minister did state that an executive member had been texting him.

“This puts the organisation in bad light,” stressed the SVGTU President.

He noted that he is not sure when the union’s next move will be made as Teachers Solidarity Week runs from November 8 to 14 and there is an Annual General Meeting (AGM) on November 11.

This is Robinson’s second consecutive term in office, having been re-elected President in February 2014. Before this term he served two terms as president from 2000 to 2004. Presidents cannot serve three consecutive terms.

This is the first strike under his leadership.

The President also noted that the union has other matters that they are following closely including the Otto Sam issue, the issue of the reinstatement of three teachers who resigned to contest the general elections of 2010 but were not reinstated and a teacher who was transferred from a school on the mainland to the Union Island Secondary School in 2009 and has never received her hard area allowance, while other persons got it.

“People are living in fear but they need to understand their rights and being off from school for one day doesn’t mean that you abandoned your post, you have right to be off up to 10 days.”

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