Four executive members of the Teachers’ Union were among the 60 per cent of educators who turned out to classes on Tuesday, when the union staged a one-day strike to try to pressure the government to pay one month’s salary tax-free in lieu of salary increases since 2011.
Union president, Oswald Robinson, said a preliminary count showed that 40 per cent of teachers were off the job.
The Teachers’ Unions and the Public Service Union called the strike as part of their efforts to get the government to make the payment before general elections, expected by year-end.
“… those who went to work did little or nothing. Some schools had a very low turnout of students. Some principals had to teach classes and the Principals’ meeting had to be put off,” Robinson said.
The turnout of teachers and students at schools in Kingstown showed mixed numbers.
At the Kingstown Anglican School, 18 of the 30 teachers turned up to work, and 268 of the 540 students attended classes.
The headmaster, who did not want to be named in this report, said that classes were merged to compensate for the absent teachers.
At the CW Prescott Primary School, the headmistress, who also declined to give her name, said that 35 of the 44 teachers turned up to class.
Less than 50 per cent of the 741 students enrolled attended classes.
“… but they are taken care of. They are with other teachers,” she said of the students whose teachers did not attend class.
One-quarter of the 28 teachers at Thomas Saunders Secondary School did not turn up to work, while some 80 per cent of the 512 students attend classes, the principal of the co-ed school said.
At the all-male St. Vincent Grammar School, four of the 48 teachers did not turn up to work and their students did not receive any instruction in those particular subjects on Tuesday, principal Curtis King told I-Witness News.
King, who has said publicly that public sector workers deserve the one-month salary payment, maintained that position on Tuesday although he turned up to work
“I have certain issues — not that I care to share them because I will go to my union and raise those issues,” he said, when asked why he decided to turn up to work in light of his views about the salary payment.
“I would go public with any criticism concerning those,” he said.
Asked if he thinks that the state is in a position to pay the one-month salary, which Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, Ralph Gonsalves, said will amount to EC$25 million, King said:
“I can’t answer that. What I would say, there are competing interests and however you deal with that is a matter of priority, but I think that the teachers’ cause is more than reasonable,” King said.
The executive members who turned up to classes were First-Vice President Sheldon Govia, General Secretary, Margaret Lewis-Jackson, Assistant General Secretary, Jane Farrell, and Maxwell Jones, a committee member.
Farrell, a teacher at CW Prescod Primary School declined to comment on why she decided to work on the day when her union called a strike.
Her co-worker, Wendy Bynoe, the union’s spokesperson did not turn up to work.
Meanwhile, Gonsalves, in a radio address late Tuesday, thanked the teachers and public servants, who, he said, “overwhelmingly turned out to work”.
“The number of teachers in every single school that went to work exceeded the number of teacher who stayed away. And, nationally, overwhelmingly, the teachers went to work and it is only in the odd case that you had a public servant who didn’t go to work.
Gonsalves said that in the school where Robinson is principal the overwhelming number of teachers went to work.
“I want to thank the parents, who, again, overwhelmingly, sent their children to school and the children who went to school.
“In terms of the turnout of the teachers, that is a slap in the face of that section of the leadership, which irresponsibly went out against all advice and called the strike,” Gonsalves said, noting that the general-secretary, vice-president and other members of the executive of the Teachers’ Union went to work.
“One who is on leave, he told me that if he was not on leave — an executive member — he was going to school because he didn’t agree with the strike.
“It was so unnecessary. I guess they will now want to come and talk with me.
“As I said, I am open to discussion on an ongoing basis,’ Gonsalves said, adding that he want to talk with the unions in October to review the nation’s finances and see what he can do, “if anything at all”.