Immediate past president of the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers’ Union (SVGTU), Wendy Bynoe ended her two-year stint on Thursday with the union 20% larger than when she took office.
She told the union’s biennium that her executive was leaving the union with a surplus of EC$54,828 and its critical illness fund increased to EC$163,372, up from $18,743 two years ago.
“We deserve congratulations for these outstanding results. These results indicate that we were good stewards of the members’ dollars,” she said.
“The SVGTU has a challenge, and this relates to our ability to change and mobilise in a way that nurtures our youths. If we are unable to innovate and inspire new ideas, invite thoughtful exchange and reasoned dialogue, then we will indeed create a union in crisis,” she told the conference.
Bynoe was leaving office having lost the presidency to Oswald Robinson, a retired educator whom she replaced two years ago.
Bynoe, a deputy principal, is automatically a member of Robinson’s executive in light of her status as the immediate past-president.
Since being voted back into office, Robinson, who as immediate past president of the SVGTU was a member of Bynoe’s executive, told one media outlet that the union is “in crisis”.
Bynoe, however, painted a contrasting picture at Thursday’ event which was held virtually, in keeping with the physical distancing guidelines recommended during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“After 24 months of significant change at every level, the SVGTU is now a more relevant and stable institution,” she said, adding that the reforms have not been delivered easily “but what is clear is that the SVGTU is getting on top of the challenges faced, whether they arose from legacy issues or recent changes in the way we operated.
“For this, I feel proud and humbled to have stepped into the role of president backed by a dynamic executive team for such a service-oriented organisation. Providing value to members was always at the forefront of our minds and thus rightfully guided our efforts,” Bynoe said.
“As members recognise, we are not simply an institution that measures success and member value by industrial actions only. We are also judged on the critical role the SVGTU plays in the benefits we offer to our members.”
Bynoe said that ever conscious of the need to improve its services to existing members and to appeal to potential members, the union introduced several enhanced functionalities to its package.
Bynoe said that when her executive took office, too many union members were without medical insurance.
The union partnered with a local firm to offer “an impressive insurance package that is closely aligned to our members’ needs, our objectives and core principles”.
Now, almost 700 of the union members have signed up to the plan and the insurer says that as of May 1, 2020, the coverage will move to EC$1,000,000, up from $600,000.
“This increase comes with other in-plan improvements that create more value for our members,” she said, adding that the US$25,000 limit on air ambulance service has been removed and members now have 100% coverage.
Further, the limit for airfare has improved from $3,500 per year to $3,500 per trip.
Bynoe said she was proud that, for the first time in 16 years, her union hosted the 39th biennial conference of the Caribbean Union of Teachers, and did so without having to tap into union funds.
The SVGTU membership increased to 1406, up from 1137 when her team took office, Bynoe said.
“Growth in membership remains an important marker of the service we provide and the value we offer. Moreover, it demonstrates that we are on the right path.”
Further, after 15 years of no collective bargaining agreement, the SVGTU after several requests and under the leadership of her executive was invited back to the negotiating table.
“We submitted an impressive document with a great deal of new and improved benefits for our members.
She said the union also partnered with business places and firms to offer savings on and discounts ranging from 5% to 20% and a telecommunications package “that is second to none”.
“Throughout the biennium, we welcomed several new individuals to the SVGTU family, all of whom made a significant impact on the long-term viability of this institution. At SVGTU, we do not stand in the way of progress or the aspirations of stakeholders, so we said goodbye to a few staff and executive members who moved on to pursue opportunities more aligned to their professional and personal objectives,” Bynoe said in an apparent response to Robinson’s media comment about the number of executive members who had resigned during her tenure.
“During the biennium, we represented and responded to numerous disputes. We provided unparalleled services. Almost 100% of grievances were resolved amicably,” she said, adding that all 10 branches were reactivated.
“Not only were these branches and committees activated but their level of activities increased which resulted in members’ active participation,” Bynoe said.
She further stated:
“I want to respectfully suggest that it is imperative for us as members of the SVGTU to move beyond the union politics and internecine conflicts which divide us. Instead, let us seek to come together to create a common brotherhood and sisterhood of unity among all members.
“This is the only way to tackle the myriad issues and challenges which we face as teachers.
Invaluable social achievements cannot be allowed to fall victim to the indiscriminate austerity policies that we have witnessed in recent times. If we are to progress in our unions, we need to be united. A fragmented organization is a weak organisation,” she said.
“The 2018–2020 biennium was a successful one in my estimation. I can say without a shadow of a doubt that much was accomplished. When anyone examines the performance of the National Executive over the past two years, it really does not take much contemplation before concluding that we were heading in the right direction. Most definitely, we have rebounded stronger and for this we must all take credit. Job well done!” she said.