President of the Teachers’ Union, Oswald Robinson, says the one-day strike, on Tuesday, “created an impact” and has dismissed as “propaganda”, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves’ description of the industrial action as a “failure”.
Robinson said that 14 more teachers joined the union ahead of the strike, which saw 40 per cent of the nation’s educators staying away from the classroom.
The Teachers’ Union and the Public Service Union called the strike as part of efforts to force the government to pay before general elections — expected by year-end — one month’s salary tax-free in lieu of salary increases since 2011.
“We have a couple schools that had to close and we have some schools that hardly had children; so the parents really supported us,” Robinson told I-Witness News on Tuesday.
He said the union was informed that some schools were closed Tuesday afternoon as a result of low teacher turn out, and even where turnout was high, very little was done in the classroom.
Robinson told I-Witness News that some teachers who opposed the industrial action set quizzes for Tuesday in an attempt to force students to attend classes.
But he said that even the Ministry of Education was directly affected by the strike.
“We caused the Ministry of Education to put off their principals’ meeting. They were supposed to have a principal meeting today. It didn’t happen,” Robinson said.
But four members of the executive of the Teachers’ Union, turned up to classes on Tuesday.
“Remember the Prime Minister said that executive members were texting him.”
Asked if he thought those were the executive members, Robinson told I-Witness News:
“He said executive so it could be from both unions.”
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.
Robinson, however, maintained that the industrial action was “a success”, adding that in 2008, when the unions threatened to strike over the Reclassification exercise, it didn’t materialise.
“The fact that we created an impact means that there is potential there,” he said, adding that the unions will regroup and strategise on their next move.
Robinson said that some teachers went to school out of fear, noting that the Ministry of Education issued a statement on Tuesday urging teachers to turn out to work.
“People need to understand their fundamental rights,” Robinson told I-Witness News, adding, “If the trade unions call you away from work, you should obey the calling. You cannot be fired for staying away from work for one day.”
He said that a lot of principals are not members of the union, adding that some of them withdrew their membership some years ago and have not re-joined
“Another thing is that some people are playing politics. If you look at how some persons dress up in their party colours and went to work,” he said, adding that some persons used their religion “as a disguise saying they would be striking against the children”.
Robinson said that he understands that Paget Farm Primary, Union Island Primary, Questelles Government, Kingstown Government, Carapan Secondary, and New Adelphi Secondary were among the most severely affected.
“So we created an impact despite the political divide that exists throughout the society.”
Robinson said that he believes that Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves is miscalculating the ability of the union to gather information.
“We have a headquarters and we have a network. We have a communication strategy to get information from the schools. So we don’t need to drive around the country to get information,” he said.
The union head told I-Witness News that, on Monday, the Ministry of Education was calling the schools and trying to find out who will be in charge and who will have the keys.
Robinson dismissed as “not true” statements that the union had not created enough momentum leading up to the strike.
“There are some people who would try their best to run away from meetings because they don’t want to be part of a radical move. So they will run away from meetings so information would not go back to people who have influence over them,” he said.