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No settlement in teachers’ dispute

No settlement in teachers’ dispute

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The dispute between the St Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers’ Union (SVGTU), the Public Service Union (PSU) and the government over the implementation of the R-2 phase of the reclassification process seems set to continue indefinitely.{{more}}

Several meetings, two Prime Ministerial press conferences and statements of resolve by the SVGTU and the PSU have not brought the two sides closer to a settlement, and at press time, the war of words and numbers waged on, with no end in sight.

At another general meeting on Friday, October 17th the teachers again made it clear that they do not intend to back down from their demands.

“Teachers will rather be doing the jobs that we are designed to do,” president of the SVGTU said at the meeting, but called on the Government to “Listen to us.”

“Whenever we want something we should not have to be disrupting school,” she added.

At that meeting, General Secretary of the Union Philbert “PeeJohn” John was in a combative mood and said that despite what the government wants people to believe, the teachers’ position is reasonable.

A decision was taken at the meeting to continue the strike for a second straight week with John warning government not to engage in any victimization of teachers.

Many may have hoped that when Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves returned from his European financial investment tour, that he would have been able to bring an end to the standoff.

Wrong.

As he addressed a press conference on the morning of Monday October 20th in Cabinet Room on the fourth floor of the Administrative building, a little more than a handful of teachers were singing “We shall overcome” and ringing the bell of protest at the front gate.

When he addressed the situation, the Prime Minister told journalists that he was satisfied that the government’s technical team was being very reasonable.

The Prime Minister again repeated his belief that the teachers have never had things as well as they do under his administration, and accused a small minority of union members of trying to advance their personal agendas in the fueling of the conflict.

“The actions of the teachers have hurt me…to the core of my stomach,” Dr Gonsalves declared, repeatedly suggesting that he took the teachers’ strike as a personal slap in the face.

He told journalists that he believes that many of the teachers who are staying at home do not really support the strike, but are rather standing in solidarity with their union.

He however issued a call to them to report to work, saying that “solidarity must be based on reasonableness,” and appealed to the union not to act in a manner that will dissolve the partnership that exists between the government and the teachers.

He also answered teachers, who he claimed, were suggesting that teachers were responsible for his political ascendency and could also be his downfall.

The Prime Minister said that the 1,700-strong teacher workforce, while supportive of him, were not responsible for his political success.

He also noted that reclassification process is also concerned with performance and said information shared with him suggests that one third of teachers are under performing and need re-tooling.

Dr Gonsalves also made it clear that while he was willing to speak to teachers concerning other concerns that they may have, “I won’t talk while they are on strike.”

He also warned the opposition New Democratic Party (NDP), “Do not try to take advantage of this issue.”

On Tuesday evening, the PSU announced its intention to join the SVGTU on the picket line on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, and called on its members to come out in support.

Another press conference was held on Wednesday October 22nd with Dr Gonsalves, Budget Director Edmond Jackson and Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance Godfred Pompey.

They presented figures which suggested that when it came to the lower scales, the government’s position is more attractive that the union’s.

One example was scale K (where you will find teacher 1s, who enter the service with only O’ level passes). Dr Gonsalves and his team contended that the government’s proposal is that they start at $14, 544 per year while the union’s position will see them starting at $11,000.

The government officials contended that the teachers’ union’s proposal is only concerned with the upper scales and leaves out the lower ones.

As for the argument that teachers at teacher 1 and teacher 2 positions will not stay there for long and will upgrade themselves to the higher positions, both the Prime Minister and Jackson said that the government’s position ensures that more people are attracted to the teaching and public service.

Jackson also said that if the unions’ proposals are adopted, it would cause several more positions to be red circled and result in many of the salary scales over lapping, which is one of the things the reclassification process was supposed to prevent.

He said this would have been the case too, if the Powell report had been implemented as it had been. (KJ)

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