Teachers’ Union President, Oswald Robinson, left, and Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves. (IWN file photo)

Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves is rebutting the report of the Teachers’ Union that 40 per cent of teachers heeded their call and stayed away from the classroom on Tuesday.

The Teachers’ Union and the Public Service Union asked their members to observe a one-day strike as part of continued efforts to pressure the government to pay public sector workers one-month’s salary tax-free in lieu of any salary increase since 2009.

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Gonsalves, speaking on his party’s radio station on Wednesday, said that Ministry of Education figures show that 20 per cent of teachers did not turn up to class, while a sample by the Special Branch of the police force puts the number at 15 per cent.

“I have the statistics in front of me,” Gonsalves said.

The Ministry of Education received reports from 61 primary schools, while there was no response from Mayreau Government, Mustique Government, Bequia, SDA, Richland Park SDA, Sugar Mill Academy, Summit Education Trust, Sunny Ville Primary, or Sunshine Special Needs, some of which are private schools.

The Special Branch investigated teacher attendance at 41 schools, including 10 secondary schools.

“Of the 61 schools, the score overall in these schools, 85 per cent of the teachers turned up,” Gonsalves said.

He said the percentage was brought down by Bequia Anglican, where they only had 23.5 per cent of the teachers went to work, Mary Hutchinson Primary in Union Island, where there was a 28.5 per cent turnout, and Union Methodist at New Grounds, 47 per cent.

Of the 61 schools, 44 of them had attendance between 80 per cent and 100 per cent,” Gonsalves said.

“So when the Ministry of Education says that less than 20 per cent of the teachers stayed away, they were absolutely correct, but the numbers indicate that you will have below 15 per cent is you take all the schools, including the secondary schools.”

Gonsalves, who is also Minister of National Security, said the numbers given to him by the police show that of the 31 primary schools and 10 secondary that they surveyed, 89 per cent of the teachers were present.

“You will see that this was an abysmal failure and Oswald Robinson is talking through his hat,” Gonsalves said of the president of the Teachers’ Union.

“I can tell him that. Emphatically. What he is saying is false. There is nothing close to 40 per cent of the teachers who attended, and I have the numbers to prove it.

“I want to repeat it: less than 15 per cent of the teachers stayed away. And if you deal with the teachers overall, all the school, including the secondary schools, because the turn out in the secondary schools was uniformly very high. And I say it’s only three primary schools where there was a turnout below 50 per cent.

“So where he gets his number from? These are numbers, which were phoned into the Ministry by the various principals and persons in charge of the schools. And it is not true that any school was closed. Absolutely untrue.

“So I want to nail down those things immediately…” he said.

Gonsalves said that only four of the nine members of the executive of the Teachers’ Union went on strike.

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First-Vice President Sheldon Govia, General Secretary, Margaret Lewis-Jackson, Assistant General Secretary, Jane Farrell, and Maxwell Jones, a committee member, ignored the union’s call to stay away from the classroom.

Questions have been raised about whether the action of the four is an indication of the state of the union or if they are just acting in their own self interest as the principal positions at the school where the executive members teach will become vacant soon.

Gonsalves said that an executive member of the Teachers’ Union who is on leave and is one of constituents, told him that he would not have strike if he was on duty.

“So, I am emphatically stating that the strike by the teachers was an abysmal failure for the union. And it’s the first time I hear a union leader who could stretch the truth to say he got 40 per cent, which did not accord with the facts.

“But even if that was so, a man should be ashamed to be leading a union and get 40 per cent. But, it is not that. The Ministry of Education made it plain that it was below 20 per cent. I am saying that it is less than that, from the statistics before me — more in the region of 15 per cent.”

Robinson has accused Gonsalves of being disrespectful of the union, saying that while the union write to the prime minister, the Prime Minister communicates with them through his public statements.

“… my door remains open to the union leaders,” Gonsalves said on Thursday.

“They might take a few days to lick their wounds. I am not gloating, because this is a sad occasion for the union. And as a union man myself, that section of the leadership misled the teachers very badly. But instead of that, they are living in fool’s paradise still.

“But having said that. I want simply to say that the door of the prime minister are opened. As I had said in July, I want us to meet in October again to look at the September fiscal outturn up to the third quarter.

“I am still available for that discussion and to give them my thoughts. After all, the government is the employer and the union membership, by staying away from the call made by their union leader, by attending school, have simply told the union leaders who engineered this strike, ‘Just go and talk to the Comrade, nuh.’”

Gonsalves has repeatedly said that the unions’ proposal will cost EC$25 million and that his government will not be able to make it until 2016.

But the unions say they want the money to be paid before general elections, which are expected by year-end.

9 replies on “PM rebuts union’s report that 40% of teachers went on strike”

  1. When you have a government that is against unions, you have to cry out to the Almighty God and say ‘God help our Country’. I watched Ralph on TV with a press’s release and he looked more like satan rejoicing that the strike turnout was not bigger. Teachers and civil servants who did not support the strike are chickens who should not accept that money if/when it is realized. They are hypocrites and their faces are on backwards. The head of the Lowmans primary school is the head of the hypocrites. The Chief Education Officer will need a trade union soon – she must remember she is dealing with a PM who, when push comes to shove, considers only his family. I was a struggling civil servant in SVG too, I understand what it’s like coming from the country with on lunch, can’t meet transportation, salary finishes before you receives it, keeping up with the upkeep of children, I guess the HT in the party colours (red) along with her followers don’t have to deal with those demands, so I hope/pray the unions have a backup plan to keep the pressure on.

    1. A quasi-monopoly like our public schools should be prohibited by law from having unions which allow their members to strike.

      To be sure, these unions should permitted to have faculty and support staff associations which can participate in collective bargaining with the government on behalf of their members.

      But allowing public sector workers to strike is against the interests of the general public when they are left with no alternative services after government workers walk out.

      These workers are –or should be — protected by labour law that prevents their exploitation and promotes their fair treatment.

      But the public must also be protected by being ensured that their constitutionally and democratically achieved rights — to educate their children and to have access to other public services — are upheld.

      Being a government employee is not a right; it is a privilege based on the acceptance that being a public servant (which teachers become by accepting government employment) means serving the public.

      Striking is a repudiation of this duty to serve the public.

      If you are a teacher, your first duty is to your students. Your second duty is to your conscience. Your third duty is to your country. Your fourth duty is to your family. Your fifth duty is to your union. Your last duty is to your party.

      It is a pity that most teacher have this hierarchy of duties upside down.

      This is not about one man — the Prime Minister — or about the colour of T-shirts, or about victimization. It is about the basic rights of citizens in a democratic society, something, alas, that few teachers understand.

  2. In the last paragraph the PM’s statement is absolutely correct but incomplete. Permit me to make the corrections.
    “I am still available for that discussion. After all the government is the employer and the union members, by staying away from the call made by their union leader , by attending school, have simply told the union leaders who engineered the strike, ‘we support the government’s position and not yours, so go back and talk to the Comrade nuh, or resign forthwith!’ Robinson and Boucher needs to step down now!

    1. It means nothing of the sort, what it shows is that they were frightened to stay away because of the spite, malice and hatred that they may well have to endure at the hands of the regime.

  3. More evidence that the executive of the teachers’ union should resign for fomenting this disaster. If they don’t resign, this will show that they have no respect for themselves and nothing but contempt for their members.

  4. You mean to tell me that this PM has the testicular fortitude to say that someone is not telling the truth, when you PM, of all person has admitted that you don’t always tell the truth! Does it really matter if it’s less than 20% of the teachers stayed away, and why is that PM? Perhaps because they are afraid of your retaliation and ultimately dismissal. Remember Oto Sam! Is the demand of the teachers and civil service not fair? Deal with the real issue and not the individual(s). That’s your game, turning the spot light on individuals instead of dealing or address the real issue. And look at us Vincentians falling into your trap again, Every Single Time! No wonder you treat us so disrespectfully and parade around like you are God’s gift to Vincentians!

  5. Going on strike legally is not a police matter, teachers are not terrorists, what on earth was the Police Special Branch doing monitoring numbers of teachers who were acting within the law in withdrawing their labour.

    No one but Gonsalves could have set that in motion and here is absolute evidence that Gonsalves is operating a police state, using the Special Branch as his personnel political police force.

    This has got to be a breach of human rights and therefore a breach of our constitution. The Special Branch are probably being used to monitor peoples phone calls, passing back information to Gonsalves.

    If what he says is true because we know he tells lies this is the most serious matter and should be investigated by outside international agencies.

    This is the kind of thing you expect in Venezuela, but as part of ALBA perhaps we should expect some of that behaviour to overflow here.

    I am calling on the US and the British to investigate and lay complaints about such matters.

    It’s no wonder the teachers are terrified of him, many turned up for work because they were worried about being fired or moved to NEMO , the prospect of spite and hatred frightened them silly.

    1. Peter, don’t you think the cops were there just in case the strike degenerated into violence and were just counting numbers, as they are instructed to do in any similar situation, so as to ensure that additional personnel are called in if matters, such as crowd control or disorderly conduct, get out of hand.

      Where I live, I often hear police estimates of crowds for different public events or crisis situations like demonstrations and riots.

      I also suspect that rather than being afraid of getting sacked or transferred, the low walkout numbers reflect (1) a lack of support for an undemocratically called strike, (2) an expression of opposition to the tactics of these incompetent union leaders, and (3) overall support for the ULP.

      Peter, you and I generally in lock step on many issues, but on this strike issue we couldn’t be further apart.

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