The Grenada Union of Teachers (GUT) and the 27-month old government of Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell are once again heading on a path of collision as the bargaining body expresses concerns over the status of temporary teachers in the profession.
GUT President, Lydon Lewis has sent a message to government that the union will do whatever is necessary to ensure that its members do not continue to be disenfranchised by their temporary status as teachers.
Lewis who was recently re-elected to the post in a battle in which he beat back the challenge of past President, Marvin Andall warned that if an update is not given soon on the issue by the relevant authorities then the union will be forced into some form of action.
He told reporters at a press conference that the temporary teachers situation is a long standing issue and there has not been an update in recent times from the Ministry of Education as to what is happening.
He pointed out that the Union’s data shows about 620 temporary teachers in the system while the authorities are talking about a smaller figure of around 185-200 positions.
“If there are only 185-200 vacant positions, then where are the teachers, are they home? It means that they’re there in the schools – the temporary position does exist”, he said.
“As it stands now, we know that a process has started, we were informed that a process has started. We were given a deadline of September where the first batch of teachers will be appointed but as to how the process is unfolding and what is happening now, since February or March we have not had an official word,” he added.
The Mitchell-led government is under mounting pressure from the Washington-based International Monetary Fund (IMF) to cut back on its monthly expenditure on wages and salaries.
The new rulers have committed to a process of attrition in which only three of every public officers who leave the system will be filled.
However, knowledgeable experts have said that this will not have any significant bearing on the wage bill and what is needed is a much more far-reaching retrenchment programme to bring the wage bill to within manageable levels.
Lewis said he is hopeful that the next meeting with the Ministry of Education would be fruitful enough and the officials will provide an update to GUT on the issue.
“We are wondering as to why the Union is not being kept abreast of what is happening with the temporary teachers and where the process is at now and it’s of deep concern to us because we have said and will continue to say (so) once this matter is left hanging”, he said.
“We are aware of what the Labour Code says in terms of persons acting and we believe that it’s time that the Union gets an update, otherwise we may just have to wait and when September comes do what we think is necessary to ensure that our members do not continue to be disenfranchised by their temporary status,” he remarked.
Teachers have often used the start of the new school year in September to threaten industrial action on the island in order to get the sympathy of the public.
Parents are often weary of an industrial impasse involving Teachers since they will have to face the burden of having to find alternative places to leave their children if the school is affected by strike action.
According to Lewis, the acting School Principals in the system is another issue of concern to GUT and although it has been addressed to an extent, there are two Principals that the Union is extremely concerned about.
He said GUT is pushing for the acting Principal at St John’s Christian Secondary School, Anthony Wellington and the one at Green Street Pre-Primary, Carol James to get the recognition that they deserve.
He stated that Wellington is due to retire very soon and the Ministry has shown no consideration for him to be appointed as the substantive holder of the post after more than 10 years serving as the acting Principal in the institution.
“The union has made it clear that we do not intend to allow this to happen but so far we have been met with stiff resistance from the Ministry in appointing Mr Wellington and Sister James”, he said.
“We are going to continue to push for those two persons. As it relates to the others we are aware that they are given one year appointments to most of (the) acting Principals and we are hoping that come September this year, these persons will be recommended for permanent positions and so we have very little acting principals,” he added.
The promotions being sought will impact positively on the gratuity payments to be made to these Acting Principals when they retire from the service.