KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent – President of the Teachers Union Ronald Clarke says it is time for the powers that be to begin seeing the three teachers who have been jobless since losing in general elections last December “as human beings”.
Addison “Bash” Thomas, Kenroy Johnson, and Elvis Daniel have not been reappointed after running on behalf of the New Democratic Party (NDP).
Elvis Charles, a teacher who ran on behalf of the Dr. Ralph Gonsalves-led Unity Labour Party (ULP), was appointed as a government senator.
The teachers had initially intended to take election leave under a 2005 collective agreement signed between the union and the government.
But days before nomination day, it became public that Article 16 of the agreement was unconstitutional and that the teacher would have to resign in order to contest the election.
Prime Minister Gonsalves, one of the signatories of the agreement, has said that he would “not lift a finger” to hinder or help the teachers because doing so would be unconstitutional.
But Housing Minister Clayton Burgin, a former teacher who signed the agreement when he was Education Minister, has said that the teachers should not be rehired, claiming that they had abandoned their students.
But Clarke said at a media briefing on Monday that almost one year after the elections, it was time to put politics aside.
“We need to see past the colours. We need to see past the red and the yellow. We need to look into our hearts. We need to look at ourselves. Look at them as other human beings who have a family to take care of and forget about the rubbish that they knew that before,” Clarke said.
He described as “nonsense” Burgin’s suggestion that the NDP finds jobs for the teachers.
“We, as a government, we are to take care of our citizens. … So I am calling on the relevant persons, do the right things. Have these persons reinstated and stop demonising them,” he said.
“Stop seeing them as if they are some demon, they are human beings like all of us and they deserve their little square inch in this God-blessed country of ours,” he said, a line that called up memories of Gonsalves’ recent statement that he is prime minister of every square inch of this multi-island nation.
“Don’t marginalise them. Don’t put them aside; give them the opportunity to contribute to the development of this country,” Clarke added.
“It is difficult. I shudder to think if I was in their position what would have been,” the trade unionist stated as he asked the media not to allow the plight of the teacher to die.
Clarke said that his views on the constitutionality of the contentious article differ from that of others.
“But what I am having a problem with is the issue now where some members of the public seem to be making a monster out of these teachers who would have resigned to contest general elections,” he said.
Clarkes further said that it “really disturbs” him when people say that the collective agreement did make provisions for teachers to resign so that they can contest elections.
“We all know that. That is true. But like the Hon. Elvis Charles …, like myself, these three teachers were of the opinion that they would have election leave and would be able to go back to their classroom should they lose. My thing is, I only knew this just prior to nomination Day. They also knew about it at that late moment,” Clarke said.