KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent – Representatives from the government and the Teacher Union will today enter into day two of negotiations for a new collective agreement.
“I can tell you that negotiations have started … but I may not be able to give you all the details in terms of what was discussed,” a source familiar with the negotiations told I-Witness News last night.
I-Witness New understands that the negotiations are considering several proposed changes to the last agreement, which was signed in 2005.
“The discussions were quite fruitful and cordial. There were no areas of serious disagreement today,” the source said, adding that talks recommence today at 9 a.m.
According to information reaching I-Witness News, both sides will look at the contentious Article 16 of the 2005 agreement with a view to tweaking it to avoid the controversies that broke out after the December 2010 election.
Section 16 should have allowed teacher six months election leave to contest general elections but was later said to be unconstitutional.
Prime Minister Dr, Ralph Gonsalves has said that all signatories to the agreement knew that the contentious article was “aspirational”.
Three teachers who ran on behalf of the New Democratic Party (NDP) and one who ran for the ruling Unity Labour Party (ULP), resigned just ahead of the elections because of the controversial section.
The teacher who ran for the NDP are still waiting to be reemployed to the teaching service while the one who ran for the ULP has been appointed a senator.
Reports indicate that the Teachers’ Union have opted not to test in court the constitutionality of the section although they have been advised by several lawyers to do so.
According to well-placed sources, the Teachers’ Union’s during talks yesterday was trying to tie the government to a timeline for having shower installed at all of the nation’s schools, in addition to science and computer laboratories at some.
But the government is not agreeing to a timeline, saying that the implementation of such a proposal “is subject to the availability of finance”.
“All of these have the same constraints on them. The government is committed to providing them but only as funds allow,” a source said.
The union is also hoping that the negotiations will quantify “certain things that over the years have not quantified”.
These include compensation payable to teachers who incur added cost when they are assigned to a school far from their homes.
The Union wants to clarify “things that were vague … so that there won’t be a problem if they are violated,” a source said.
But reports reaching I-Witness News indicate that the teachers might be opening themselves to another Article-16-type saga, since their negotiating team does not include a lawyer, while there are at least two staffers from the Ministry of Legal Affairs on the government’s side.
According to reports, the teachers plan to seek legal advice if there are contentious issues during the negotiations and also to have a lawyer vet the agreement before it is signed.
Reports say that while the Union would like to have legal advice throughout the negotiations, it cannot pay a lawyer “to sit all day at the negotiations”.
Negotiators for the Teachers’ Union are led by Sheldon Govier, immediate past president and include Ronald Clarke, president; Hugh Wyllie, industrial relations officer; Margaret Lewis Jackson, the general secretary; James ‘Jimmy’ Wilson, treasurer; and members Cecil “Pa” Jack, Curtis King, who are said to be experienced in negotiations.
The government’s team includes Luanne Gilchrist, chief education officer; Beverley Neptune, deputy chief education officer; Nicole Bonadie Baker, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Education; Edmund Jackson, budget director; Attorney General Judith Jones Morgan and Jennie Lewis also from the Ministry of Legal Affairs.
I-Witness News understand that the government will like the negotiations to be complete by the end of this week so that any financial considerations can be included in the Estimates, to be laid in Parliament on Dec. 13.
The Teachers’ Union, however, is “more concerned about doing thing properly than completing within the Ministry’s desired timeline,” according to sources.