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.
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.
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.