In the face of what many regarded as a publicity stunt, Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell said he was serious in announcing to the nation that several members of cabinet were prepared to go into the classroom to teach students in order to do the work of striking teachers.
Dr. Mitchell made the disclosure Monday night in a national television and radio broadcast as teachers and public officers remained off the job over the past month over a dispute with government on a 25% pension and gratuity payment due to them.
He said the Cabinet membes who had taught before entering politics were prepared to volunteer to go back into the classroom if there was an escalation in the industrial relations climate in the country.
Speaking to reporters Tuesday in the official residence of the Prime Minister at Mt. Wheldale, St. George, Dr. Mitchell said if there was a continuation of the strike, he and fellow Cabinet ministers were ready to teach the nation’s children.
“Will you want, your child if you have one going to school and you have to be out there for four months without any education, none of us want that? So, those of us who in a position with skills, are we going to say sit in a government office and don’t go out there and give some service? I am only talking in dire situations.
“You think I really enjoy having to go in a classroom but I will do it under extenuating circumstances – so, really I don’t know what is the uproar about because I am saying that I am prepared to sacrifice my body…for the benefit of the children, if it comes to that I believe the alternative of leaving them home without any service is wrong.
Speculation is rife that the Prime Minister had floated the idea in order to try and win public sympathy in the long drawn out battle with the three public sector unions and assoications negotiating for police and prison officers.
The Prime Minister sought to downplay the notion of the move would have amounted to an attempt by government to engage in union bursting tactics.
He said: “I don’t intend to go against union bursting… but if it means saving the future of this nation and our children’s education, then I think everything is off the table.”
Prime Minister Mitchell explained how the students would have been taught by Cabinet Ministers through the use of learning centres and technology rather than going directly into the schools.
“Well if the school is closed, you don’t want to be seen as going there creating another problem and you may in some cases use a school as a centre if it’s closed but that would be an understanding with the Ministry of Education and hopefully the teachers also. Right now you have a portal by which teachers can teach now in classrooms and several parts of the country”, he said.
The Prime Minister stated apart from his ministers a number of retired people had called in offering their services to government to help teach the students.
He also floated the idea of creating substitute teachers to handle a situation as what was created by the industrial action taken by the Grenada Union of Teachers (GUT).
The Prime Minister said: “When I taught high school in the United States before I was teaching at University, I taught a couple of high schools and they had what you call substitute teachers. So if a teacher got sick today…somebody comes in and substitute and usually they’re retired people and they pay them for the two weeks and when the teacher comes back, that person goes home.
“I think we need to institute that because what happens many times when teachers get sick, the classroom many times are left without anybody, that is not fair. So the Ministry needs to look at a substitute teacher programme,” he added.
Apart from GUT, the two other public sector bodies engaged in the strike action was the Public Workers Union (PWU) and the Technical & Allied Workers Union (TAWU).
The unions have heeded a request made by Catholic Bishop, Clyde Harvey to return to the bargaining table with the Government Negotiating team (GNT) to try and resolve the pension and gratuity payment issue.