KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent – Teachers’ Union President Ronald Clarke wants Housing Minister and former Minister of Education Clayton Burgin to retract his statement that three teachers who contested elections last December and lost should not be reappointed.
Addison “Bash” Thomas, Kenroy Johnson, and Elvis Daniel have been on the bread line since they ran for the opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) even as their teacher colleague, Elvis Charles, who ran for the ruling Unity Labour Party (ULP), has been made a government senator.
They have fallen victims of a collective agreement signed with the ULP administration in 2005, Article 16 of which was later said to be unconstitutional.
Burgin, a former teacher, asked at a ULP rally in mid-October why he or his party should be concerned about the teacher and said the NDP should find jobs for them.
“Now, I have serious, serious concerns about this statement,” Clarke said at a press conference on Monday.
He noted that in 2005, Burgin, then Minister of Education, along with Chief Education Officer Laura Browne, and Prime Minister Dr. Gonsalves — a lawyer and Minister of Legal Affairs — signed the agreement on behalf of the government.
Clarke said he would like to believe that the agreement was signed in good faith and hence Burgin’s recent comment “is most disturbing and … hypocritical”.
He also responded to Burgin’s statement that in contesting the elections the teachers abandoned their students.
“[If they] abandoned the children to get into politics, … the honourable minister, by affixing his signature to this document, … facilitated the process,” Clarke said.
He acknowledged that the collective agreement spoke to teacher taking election leave – for up to six months – but is silent on resignations to contest elections.
“… it would have been more or less amounting to the same thing,” he, however, said.
“And for a minister of government, and a government who claim to be very progressive, this statement is retrogressive to day the least. And it is a backward step,” a “very upset” Clarke told journalists.
“If my memory serves me right, he (Burgin) is one of those persons who … boasted about this article in the collective agreement about giving teachers this freedom.
“So, if it comes to the point now where they must resign, my thing is, give the people them back their job. Let them go to the classroom and work. They all deserve to work. It is not like they are not trained. It is not like they are inexperienced,” the trade unionist further stated.
The teacher only realised a few days before nomination day about the glitch in the agreement, Clarke said.
“They were too far in the process to turn back, in my opinion, and it would have been unfair,” he said, adding that the ULP administration “dropped the ball on the issue”.
Clarke further responded to Burgin’s comments that Daniel’s sympathizers should ask that he be reemployed rather than make a case about the mathematics specialist being a good teacher.
The NDP has copied to the union a letter it wrote to the government asking for the teachers to be reappointed, Clarke said.
“Now, it is beyond the whole issue of politics. It is about what is right, it is about what is fair, it is about what is just,” Clarke said.
“Why should we allow our teachers, under the guise that they can run for active politics [believe that] all they need to do is to take some leave and at the point of no return, they were told ‘No, it cannot be done that way’?” Clarke further stated.
“If the article itself is so progressive, why is it that the person at the point has to resign? Why should they be made to suffer as a result of that, if this collective agreement was done in good faith?” he said.
“My question to the Hon. Burgin: when he signed this collective agreement, was it done in good faith or was it just done because? As a former teacher, I am asking you to search in your soul, see yourself in these teachers’ position and I want to ask you to retract that statement,” Clarke said.
“I know it might be said ‘who are you to call on the minister to retract the statement?’ I am just another Vincentian who feels the pain of these three brothers …” he added.