KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent – President of the Teacher’s Union Ronald Clarke does not need to be convinced that Elvis Daniel is a competent mathematics teacher, having benefitted from his tutelage.
And Clarke said at the Teachers’ Solidarity March and Rally on Friday that Daniel should be reemployed, if only because of his competence.
He further told the rally that Daniel, along with Kenroy Johnson and Addison “Bash” Thomas, should be given preference for employment because of their experience.
“They have more than 75 years of experience and I am saying that special preference should be given to our brothers,” he said.
The trio were not reemployed after resigning their jobs and contesting and losing in the December 2010 general election on opposition New Democratic Party tickets.
“I … have spent from October to May doing a subject that I had never done before and I was able to write it at GCE and got a B … under the tutelage of brother Elvis Daniel,” Clarke said at the rally.
“So I know that he is an excellent teacher. And if for no other reason, this brother should be in the service teaching our nation’s children,” he further stated.
The three teachers resigned ahead of the election because Article 16 of the collective agreement the union signed with the government in 2005 was said to be unconstitutional.
Article 16 says: “A member of the union of at least three years standing, shall, on application, be granted leave-of-absence to contest National/General/Local elections. The Leave of Absence shall be no pay leave for a period not exceeding six months. In the event that the member is unsuccessful, that member shall return to his/her original post or one of equivalent status, all benefits intact. The resumption of duty must be at the beginning of a school term.”
The article is said to be in contravention of Section 26 of the Constitution, which speaks to disqualifications for representatives and senators.
The section of the Constitution cited as voiding Article 16 of the collective agreement says “No person shall be qualified to be elected or appointed as a Representative or Senator … if he – subject to such exceptions and limitations as may be prescribed by Parliament, holds or is acting in any public office or is a paid member of any defence force of Saint Vincent”.
The teaching fraternity is not agreed on the constitutionality of Article 16 of the collective agreement.
Some have noted that Section 26 of the Constitution also says that the qualifications are subject to exceptions made by Parliament.
Supporters of this view argue that the collective agreement opened the way for Parliament to legislate exceptions in law.
“The government did not make such an exception and this leaves me to conclude that they never had any intention of giving practical effect to that clause in the agreement,” one teacher told I-Witness News.
“That’s just my interpretation of the whole thing. Exactly what is meant by subject to exceptions that Parliament may prescribe?” the teacher further said.
And union president Clarke is among those who believe that the contentious article does not contradict the Constitution.
Clarke, however, told the rally to look past the legalities and see the teachers as human beings, who also have needs and emotions.
“… you deprive them of work, they feel it in their pockets, like you and me,” he said.
“And I have said time and time again that these guys deserve to be working, they are not newcomers. They are not persons who are just applying for work for the first time,” he said.
He said that since the development, the union has met with the Chief Education Officer, the Permanent Secretary in the Minister of Education, the Prime Minister and the Chief Personal Officer, in addition to efforts behind the scene to try to have the teacher reemployed.
“But, what most people don’t realise, that sometimes, it is not about who talk the loudest and who keep talking, it is about timing,” he said.
Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves has said that he will not lift a finger to help of hinder the process since doing so will be illegal.
Clarke said that the union was given the “excuse” that there were no vacancies for the teacher.
“But, I know September is the time when appointments are made to the teaching service. And, the excuse that was use then, can no longer stand,” he said.
“Will the authority say to the SVTU that we don’t have any vacancy? What is the excuse? We have not heard an excuse yet,” Clarke further stated, adding, “Colleagues, these teachers need to be reemployed.”
He further said that the teacher went into active politics under the belief that they would be able to return to their job if they lose in the election.
“The question has been asked, ‘So if they had run and they had won, would they have been in the classroom?’” Clarke said.
“Brother, sisters, comrades and all, that is nonsense and I say it is nonsense … because … we said one of the goals of the SVTU is to have our teachers aspire to higher office and so it was included in the collective agreement,” he responded.