KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent – The election leave article of the 2005 collective agreement between the government and teachers might return as a bone of contention in a new deal under negotiation.
The Teachers’ Union is expected to discuss soon the draft proposal of a new collective agreement hammered out during one week of negotiations in December.
But sources familiar with the negotiations tell I-Witness News that while there are no major changes to the 2005 agreement, there might be some disagreement on the phrasing of the article.
The article was intended to grant election leave to teachers, but was later said to be unconstitutional.
It was said to have been partly responsible for the resignation of four teachers in 2010 to contest the elections that year.
The three teachers, who competed for the opposition New Democratic Party have not been rehired by the state while the one who contested for the ruling Unity Labour Party has been made a senator.
“That article that deals with election leave … the words used last time, in my mind, were clear where you used ‘shall’ and ‘must’. It left no room for ambiguity,” a source told I-Witness News.
“Right now, the government’s side, recognising what happened in the previous document, doesn’t want to go that route in terms of the wording. They are trying to soften the wording and I know that will be a contentious issue,” said the source, who asked for anonymity.
The government and the teachers also agreed that material benefits owed to teachers would be reviewed one year after the new agreement comes into effect “so that both sides can take into consideration an enhancement of some of the benefits”.
“… That will be a next significant departure from the previous document, in that we never had a situation where we were saying that we will review the document within a year with a view to revising it based on the economic situation,” the source said.
In Previous agreements, benefits were reviewed after two years, regardless of the country’s economic fortunes.
According to information reaching I-Witness News, both the government and the Teachers’ Union agreed that in the economic circumstances it would be difficult to enhance any of financial benefits, such as end of year allowances.
This country has witnessed three consecutive years of economic decline with performance in 2010 expected to range between a further decrease of 0.4 per cent and growth of 0.8 per cent.
Both sides of the negotiation table are also said to have identified a need to “emphasise the professional responsibilities of teachers”.
They also agreed to bring maternity and other special leave in keeping with International Labour Organisation standard revised last year.
“Generally, I don’t think there will be a great departure from what existed before,” the source said of the proposed revision to the 2005 agreement.
Another source told I-Witness News that the Teachers Union membership could meet as soon as Wednesday to discuss the new proposals.
After that meeting, the documents will be sent back to the Attorney General’s Chambers and the Ministry of Education for further perusal and authorisation before it is signed.
But a second source, who also asked for anonymity, was more pessimistic about the outcome of the negotiations.
“It really doesn’t bring teachers any new benefits at all,” the source told I-Witness News.
“I understand that every time the teachers tried to make any proposals, once it was a legal issue, the government’s legal personnel would say that it is not possible. And if it was a financial issue, the finance personnel would say that the government could not afford that,” the source said.
The Teacher’s Union will seek its members’ stamp of approval for the new proposal even as the Public Service Union meets on Monday to decide what to do as the government asks them wait until June for a further review of the country’s coffers before a decision is made about paying increases owed since January 2011.