The St. Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers’ Union says it will take “radical action” if teachers fired from their jobs last December over the COVID-19 mandate are not reinstated within two weeks.
Union President Oswald Robinson said on radio, on Sunday, that the position of the union remains the same — that the teachers should be re-instated.
He was speaking hours after Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, speaking separately on another radio station, said his government would consider rehiring the teachers if there is no surge in COVID-19 cases this week, following last week’s conclusion of Vincymas, the first carnival since 2019.
The prime minister, however, said that other considerations including what vaccinated teachers as well as parents of students would say, as well as the advice of the chief medical officer and other government authorities.
Robinson, however, said he knew that the prime minister was going to make such a statement as he (Robinson) raised it with him on Wednesday — one day after Vincymas ended.
He said that he hopes that the teachers who were fired over the vaccine mandate “that this time you will stand with the union and those who are in the classroom you will stand because, as I said, we are not going to leave any stones unturned.
“Our position is that the teachers must be reinstated,” Robinson said on the union’s weekly show on Xtreme FM.
He said there is a fundamental difference between re-hiring and re-instating a teacher, noting that rehiring means that the teacher is starting afresh and this would affect their pension and gratuity benefits.
“… I didn’t listen to him on radio but I know he was going to go on the radio to speak because I, as president of the Teachers’ Union, … I had a conversation with the prime minister Wednesday night and I articulated the union’s position on this matter,” Robinson said.
“As president of the Teachers’ Union, I drew the reference to carnival. He raised the issue, the nonsensical issue, about parents have to decide. He also said that there are teachers in the classroom who are vaccinated they will have to decide. Who is the employer, the parents are the vaccinated teachers?” Robinson said.
“So I dismissed that nonsense that he told me and I said to him, ‘The position of the Teachers Union is that the teachers must be reinstated and you need to do it and do it quickly.’”
Robinson said that the union is concerned about quality education and wants the nation’s children to get the best.
He said he decided not to say anything about the conversation with the prime minister until the union’s show on Sunday.
“And I knew that he was going to try to run ahead on the WE FM programme and say something,” he said, referring to the station’s midmorning Sunday programme, to which the prime minister is an-almost-weekly caller.
“But the point of the matter and we want everybody out there to understand, the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers’ Union, our position is that the teachers must be reinstated,” Robinson said.
“And we are looking within the next two weeks because I said to the Prime Minister, ‘Schools have to be staffed and you have to start to do this thing and do it quickly.’
“But you know politicians always want to shift the blame to somewhere else, so they’re blaming the CPO (chief personnel officer). The CPO has a role to play, yes, because if you want to take away the role of the Public Service Commission, as a government, then you fall into a big trap.
“So it’s good that you could confess now that the Service Commissions has a role to play. So we are looking in the next two weeks that the teachers would be reinstated and if not, then we would have to have some kind of radical action.”
He said this is another opportunity for teachers who were deemed to have resigned their jobs after not taking the vaccine “to stand up and those who are in the classroom”.
On Friday, the U.S. Embassy in Barbados announced the delivery of nearly 4,800 children’s doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to SVG.
On Sunday, the Ministry of Health said that the paediatric vaccines will be available across the country from today (Monday).
Robinson also addressed this, saying:
“And the whole question about the vaccines now for children, we said a very long time ago that they’re coming for your children. So we hope the parents stand up. Students who are five years up to 11, they have the Pfizer vaccine.”
Robinson said he had spoken to the prime minister at an event organised by the United States Embassy in Barbados to mark the country’s 246 anniversary of independence, and the vaccines were mentioned there.
“The issue of carnival, I said to the prime minister, everybody jumping up together, there was hardly anybody wearing masks. So the whole conversation about from a pandemic to endemic, we had that conversation.
“But you know sometimes when you speak with certain people, there are certain things sometimes you don’t say. You allow them to speak and when you hear them going down the wrong road then you do the refuting.
“So our position is that our members must be reinstated. We’re not talking about hiring. So we’re asking you please don’t make anybody call you behind our backs to come and write up or sign up anything to say you’re going to start all over again.”
He urged the dismissed teacher to seek the union’s advice “so that you’d be guided accordingly.
“In fact, the man is making boast, ‘Oh, 40-something of them came and took the vaccine’,” Robinson said, referring to the prime minister.
“I said, ‘Well, that is their right if they want to do it.’ So we know that some people are being pressured because the same government that said that ‘Those (temporary teachers) who are in the classroom and are performing, we may want to make them permanent.’ But you have people in the classroom who you hired within that short space of time who have no pedagogical skills in teaching.
“So which is better? … the Teachers’ Union has been part of putting the pressure on the prime minister and the government because we know that they are not comfortable and their conscience now biting them like red ants,” Robinson said.