KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent – As teachers this week elect a new executive to lead their union, one member is calling on them to vote for people who are not afraid to go head to head with the government.

Hugh Wyllie, outgoing industrial relations officer at the Union, said on radio yesterday that the Union must return to its non-partisan position.

“… if they want our Union to return to its former glory, … its traditional role in defending members, I am asking teachers to support Oswald Robinson as president and Hugh Wyllie as second vice-president so that we have men and women in the executive who are not afraid to stand up and defend teachers,” Wyllie said.

He said that it is important that such an executive be elected.

“The Teachers’ Union has paid an important role over the years in shaping certain things and it has to return to that position. Because, a lot of the things that are happening now are happening because the Teachers’ Union, among the other unions, has capitulated, has become wings of the ULP and we need to return to our former non-partisan, independent position.

“So, I want to appeal to the teachers who have consciences to support a president and vice president who will stand up, at all times, in the interest of teachers,” Wyllie said.

Teachers are among civil servants who agreed with the Dr. Ralph Gonsalves Unity Labour Party (ULP) government to wait until June to see if the nation’s fiscal situation will allow for the payment of salary increases due since January 2011.

The Union last December negotiated with the government a new collective agreement to replace the 2005 one. The 2005 agreement contained an “aspirational” clause that saw four teachers being forced to resign their jobs before contesting elections in December 2010.

Three of the teachers, who ran on behalf of the opposition New Democratic Party, were not rehired after losing in the election.

Meanwhile Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace, who was a guest on the radio programme yesterday, reiterated his party’s objection to the National Economic Social Development Council (NESDEC).

NESDEC, which was established in 2003, comprises representatives from government, civil society and the community to address social and economic issues.

Eustace said that Unions should not be part of the organisation.

“Unions cannot sit down with a government, be involved in policy discussion and take decisions and then defend their members outside,” he said as he reiterated that an NDP’s government would abolish NESDEC.

“If you sit down as part of NESDEC and discuss policies on wages and salaries, … you cannot go back and tell your members outside they must ask for a salary increase. … They (unions) are part of the government, they are setting policy with the government and policy is not always in the interest of people …. The government has its objectives of staying in power for as long as [possible].”

Eustace further said that because of arrangements like NESDEC, many citizens are not in a position to speak out against the government.

“Because they are part of the decision process by the government in a lot of areas which are discussed with them. So how are going to represent people after that?” he said.

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