KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent – Members of the local Teachers Union have been told to get ready and await the call of the union to pressure the Ministry of Education into signing a new collective agreement.
“Teachers, members of SVGTU, I am calling on you now. When you back to your school … start mobilising your teachers,” SVGTU president Ronald Clarke said at the union’s solidarity rally on Friday.
“Mobilise your colleagues because you don’t know when the union is going to call and when you are called, we want you to be ready,” he further said.
“We need to ensure that the Ministry [of Education] is aware that we are no longer prepared to sit idly by and wait on them to sign this collective agreement. Colleagues, the last collective agreement was signed way back in 2005 …” he said.
Clarke said that he was “speechless” when he realised that Section 16 of the 2005 collective agreement the union signed with the Unity Labour Party (ULP) was unconstitutional.
Three teachers from the opposition New Democratic Party — Ken Johnson, Elvis Daniel, and Addison “Bash” Thomas — and Elvis Charles of the ULP, resigned from the public service last year when they realised that the section of the collective agreement that should have allowed does not allow them election leave was unconstitutional.
Charles was appointed a government senator but the teacher from the NDP has not been reappointed.
Some legal experts have said that the union should test the constitutionality of the section in court, even as Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves said all signatories to the agreement, knew that the section was “aspirational”.
The union is divided in its views on the legality of the contentious article.
“But colleagues, I believe that our Constitution is the supreme law of the land. … And I know that there are some colleagues of mine who believe that the article is illegal. I am not going to debate that this evening because we tend to hold a different view on that article,” Clarke said at the rally.
“And let me make it clear that even if Article 16 of our collective agreement is in contravention of the Constitution of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, it does not nullify the rest of the collective agreement, contrary to what some people think,” he further stated.