‘Teachers’ Lives Matter’ – Educators threaten more action if needs aren’t met

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By Robert A. Emmanuel

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As hundreds of public sector teachers gathered on the lawn of the Antigua and Barbuda Union of Teachers headquarters, a shirt worn by one aptly described the day’s events—’TLM: Teachers’ Lives Matter’.

As the Cabinet met yesterday to discuss matters of national importance, teachers rallied together to express that their issues were of national importance.

Teachers have already forced the government to extend the Easter holidays at public schools this week over concerns including school security, teacher upgrades, head of department payments, retroactive pay and a collective bargaining agreement.

Speaking of security, the teachers were also notified of another school break-in – this time at St Mary’s Secondary – where school equipment was reportedly stolen. Frustration was visible on the teachers’ faces as they continue to suffer from multiple schools being broken into over the past few years.

Antigua and Barbuda Union of Teachers (ABUT) General Secretary Sharon Kelsick said teachers were tired of waiting for the government to resolve these issues before acting.

Kelsick referenced several meetings held with the government since the union executive was elected to office, including the most recent meeting with Attorney General Steadroy ‘Cutie’ Benjamin.

“They had [state TV] ABS come and they wanted ABS to see they were meeting with us to make it look good … and that is when Cutie Benjamin promised us that [our issues] would be done by the 31st March and so we held up our [industrial] action again,” she said.

“We were acting in good faith, and … said to them, okay, you are asking for extra time, the teachers going to be vex with us and want to cut our necks but we will give you all the time. Well, no extra time dey, aryou run out of time.

“Even if they say we are unreasonable, the paper trail is there to show that we have done our part; now it is time for them to do their part,” she said.

Kelsick noted throughout her speech several apparent delays by the government to resolve the teachers’ concerns.

ABUT said that if a “reasonable proposal” was not sent to the union by Sunday, they would continue their protests delaying the reopening of schools which the Education Ministry previously declared would be April 17.

Meanwhile, Antigua and Barbuda will also host the eighth Council of Ministers of Education Meeting next week. However, the teachers’ union made a veiled threat to continue their industrial action throughout the event.

Several teachers also shared their personal stories, with one stating that issues continue to remain unresolved until “something happens” and called for unity among teachers.

“We [teachers] are the problem … because I cannot understand … we claim to be brothers and sisters within the same profession and when we call for something to stand up for when someone is hurting, we do nothing … I am asking for all, we all have to stand together because enough is enough,” the teacher told his colleagues.

However, ABUT President Casroy Charles warned the educators not to chastise their fellow teachers who choose not to stand in solidarity with their cause.

“We have to stand strong and stand long because after we have allowed these deficiencies to take root for so long, so for those of us who only stand up for two hours … we cannot promise you that this [fight] is going to end in two days.

“Therefore … I am appealing to us to stand up without fear and when you see persons trembling, hail them up, don’t curse them [and] when you see persons chastising us, reason with them,” Charles said.

Charles told the teachers that the government, however, continues to contravene their “terms and conditions” and have failed to act as a “model employer” throughout this ordeal.

“No model employer promise something [to their employees] and then don’t give it to them and no model employer goes through one term and doesn’t sign a collective agreement that has been brought to their attention before they took office,” he explained.

Observer media noticed some nurses were also at the event, supporting the teachers as well as the President of the Trade Union Congress (TUC) Kem Riley who also attended the rally.

“Without action, a union makes no sense, and we love action … I can bet every teacher here don’t vote for the same party, but you have the same interest: better working conditions, better pay, [and better security,” Riley said.

Meanwhile, ABUT released a press release later on Thursday, reiterating the value of teachers and calling on parents to stand in unity with them.

“The Antigua and Barbuda Union of Teachers envisions a future where education becomes a priority…where our politicians and technocrats move beyond lip service and seek to invest in our young people,” the release said.

“[ABUT] call upon the Ministry of Education to address the issues swiftly…on the ground [and] the Cabinet to contemplate our contract proposals and make a fair counter proposal.

“[We] call upon our teachers to remain fortified in our quest for fair remuneration and a safe working environment [and] ask our parents and society to stand with us because a healthy and happy teacher leads to a healthy and happy system.”

Observer media reached out to Director of Education Clare Browne who declined to comment until he formally receives the letter from the union.

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