Minister of Education, Anthony Boatswain has called for patience and tolerance from the Grenada Union of Teachers (GUT) as the near two-year old New National Party (NNP) administration seeks to regularise a problem affecting temporary teachers on the island.
Addressing local reporters at the first post-Cabinet press briefing for the new year at the Ministerial Complex on Tuesday, the senior government minister stated that the process to deal with the situation is a lengthy one.
His appeal came hours after GUT President, Lydon Lewis was seen on a local news TV station threatening possible strike action if the Government does nothing to ensure that the temporary teachers feel more secure in the system.
Minister Boatswain said that he was rather surprised to see Lewis making threats on national TV, especially after no complaints have been made about the issue.
“I am a bit surprised and all members of staff were all surprised to see the President of the GUT on television making sudden positions and treats of strike given the fact that no complaint, no formal complaint has been received by the Ministry”, he told reporters.
“I have not received any form of complaint from the Ministry, I checked with the PS (Permanent Secretary), she has received no complaints but yet he was on television making threats,” he said.
According to Minister Boatswain while he understands the rationale behind the GUT’s President frustration, the issue of the temporary teachers is not a new one and has been around for sometime.
“There are teachers in the service who have been temporary for 15 years or more. It was only when this administration took office two years ago (we) decided that we have to address the issue of temporary teachers and see how we can regularise because we felt that it was unfair to have teachers in the service teaching for so long – 10 years being temporary”, he remarked.
“That cannot be fair – to me that is social injustice and we decided that we have to regularize the process but regularisation of the process, will take time and we have commenced the process of regularising the status of those teachers,” he said.
He pointed out that all the basic work and statistical data have been compiled with respect to the regularisation of the 500 temporary teachers in order for the 200 vacant positions available in the teaching profession to be filled.
He noted that the Department of Public Administration (DPA) is the body responsible for making those placements or making recommendations to the Public Service Commission (PSC) to fill those placements, working in conjunction with the Ministry of Education.
The Education Minister stated that the President of GUT is a member of the committee that was established “to look at all of the processes” pertaining to the temporary teachers issue.
“…We have determined what the framework would be, we have decided on the process, how we would go about selecting those who should be made permanent and we have identified the criteria and all that it takes now is to continue the process – so it’s an ongoing process,” he said.
“The school year has just started, second day of the school year and we are talking about threat of strike – so really I think that was a premature, ill-advised statement by the GUT because he is a member of that working team and as I said we have not received any formal complaint of dissatisfaction with the process,” he added.
Minister Boatswain gave assurances that government was working towards a solution in regularising the status of those temporary teachers.
“Whatever solution we arrive at, it must be within the framework of Government’s efficiency policy and manpower stabilisation policy. We cannot go ahead unilaterally within the Ministry, we don’t have the authority to do that any how… to appoint teachers outside of the Government policy framework, so whatever we do it must be consistent with that overall policy”, he said.
“…We are begging for patience and tolerance in the matter because it is not a simple process in picking someone and say you go there, you go there, it is not as simple as that,” he added.
As part of a self-imposed Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP), the NNP administration has committed itself to trimming the island’s public sector wage bill in order to address a severe fiscal situation facing the island.