By Orville Williams
With just over a week to go until the scheduled start of the 2019/2020 academic year, trade union officials are far from pleased with the condition of the administrative building at the Antigua State College (ASC).
Speaking after a visit to the Golden Grove campus yesterday, the General Secretary of the Antigua Trades & Labour Union (AT&LU), Hugh Joseph, expressed his disappointment with the lack of urgency being placed on upgrading the condition of the college’s administrative block where the workers he represents are expected to perform their duties.
“The conditions that the administrative staff are made to sit in [are] deplorable. We are concerned that the institution opens shortly and based on what we are seeing here today, while there have been accommodations made for students, there is a serious concern as it relates to accommodating the staff,” Joseph said.
“Nothing, absolutely nothing, has been done to the administrative building that houses the majority of the staff, so that is definitely a concern.”
Since last year, the administrative staff at ASC has been agitating for their working conditions to be addressed, culminating in protest action earlier this year, but to date nothing substantial has been done. The lack of urgency by the authorities has caused one staff member to suggest that their complaints are still “falling on deaf ears”.
After intervening on behalf of the staff earlier this year, the AT&LU made several attempts to urge action from the leadership. Those attempts, Joseph said, have essentially been ignored.
“We would have sent a letter to the Principal [of ASC] and copied to the Permanent Secretary [Ministry of Education, Science and Technology] since April, and to date, we have not had a response to even say that we acknowledge receipt of your letter.
“We have since then, however, reached out to them – one has committed to writing, one has committed to having a meeting – none of those two has materialized to date,” Joseph explained.
However, he did acknowledge that developments for some student-centered areas seemed to be well underway, but could not give full commendation, knowing the condition of the areas designated for staff.
“The school, so far as students are concerned, seems ready, but I’m not sure about the administrative staff; we haven’t moved from where we were last term.”
“I would want to say things might have gotten worse, because with that building that the windows remain out, they can’t even occupy that; and probably last term they could have. Now, it’s not a possibility,” he said.
The AT&LU General Secretary reiterated that in the letter sent in April, they had asked for follow-up meetings to ensure all the necessary parties were in the loop regarding the developments, but no acknowledgment had been given.
There were even concerns about the status of the building, specifically in light of the hurricane season.
Joseph said that during the last discussions held with representatives from the Ministry of Education and Public Works, ideas were placed on the table.
“We had made some suggestions as to temporary accommodations. Not even that was looked at. Even if you had put those in place and you take off the roof when a hurricane comes, all you would have happening is just the place getting wet. But now, you’re talking about possibly taking off the roof and there is no place to accommodate staff,” he explained.
Also on the ASC walkthrough was the General Secretary of the Antigua and Barbuda Public Service Association (ABPSA), Janela Evanson, who said: “From what we have seen today, it seems as if the authorities are only interested in the students, because for the administrative part of the building, nothing at all has been done.”
Concerned by what she describes as a safety hazard, she urged the leadership to be more transparent, saying, “We would like some sort of answers for the staff; to be relocated to areas that are safe for them.”