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Teachers back new pay deal

By Alex O'Reilly, The Bermuda Sun, (News from 2000-02-11 Edition), 13 February 2000

AFTER six months of talks and intermittent class disruption, teachers and their bosses have finally thrashed out a new pay deal. It includes a three per cent pay increase and an extra week of maternity leave, and was okayed by unionized teachers on Monday night. This after agreement was reached between the Bermuda Union of Teachers (BUT), the Education Ministry and the Principal Association, following more than six months of negotiations.

According to BUT secretary Michael Charles, there were no opposing votes and just 16 abstentions. This is the end result of unrest which took the form of sick outs staged by teachers last October, closing government schools for two days. Major points in the deal:

  • an extra week of maternity leave;
  • one paid day of leave;
  • two full days of uninterrupted classroom preparation in September;
  • a half day for parent-teacher meetings;
  • a three per cent pay increase.

A plus from Government's standpoint is that teachers have agreed to 25 hours a year of development training.

"In this type of negotiation," said Mr. Charles, "you never get exactly what you want but we believe this is fair.

"Teachers are mainly feeling relieved right now. Although they were not involved intimately in the negotiations, it was still hanging over their heads. I think for the most part they will be able to put the situation behind them and move on."

Added the Education Ministry's Maureen Nusum, who chaired the negotiations: "From the government side, all parties want this to work and we actually managed to solve some problems which were outside of the negotiating issues.

"Now we are in the spirit of talking and listening to each other, we hope to continue to work together."

Mr. Charles added that while it sounded idealistic, that relationship between the three parties is the only way to make the system work smoothly.

"We have to look at our ultimate aim: the improvement of our students," said Mr. Charles.

He added that teacher morale had suffered through the debate. And he hopes that with the increased communication between the three parties, confidence will be restored.

Many of the issues tackled, Mr. Charles said, the BUT has been raising with government for years, such as the extension of the 12-week maternity leave to 13 weeks.

This, he said, has been a long standing complaint for teachers. Unlike other jobs, they cannot just work up until the day before.

And, according to General Orders, teachers are required to give up work two months before the birth, or to get special permission from their doctor to remain in school, absolving the Ministry from any accidents that may happen in that period.

But in all cases, said Mr. Charles, the result is the new mothers have less than three months at home with their babies. And in a number of cases have tried to extend their time off.

"The issue of a paid personal day has also been on-going. Traditionally teachers have had three unpaid days they could take. Now they have those in addition to one paid."

Another point considered a "win-win" by both sides, was to allow teachers more preparation time before the start of the school year. Mr. Charles said in the past teachers have been known to work well into the night getting their classrooms ready for the opening of school. This way they will be able to have two days, without interruption, to prepare.

And Mr. Charles added: "From the union side we have been able to get from the government a half-day so that we can do workshops with our union reps.

"We were asking for a day and the government has relented and given us half."

The sticking point in the bargaining was the 25 hours of development - Government had been requesting 70.

Ms. Nusum said: "Through compromise and realistic negotiation we reached 25 and we agreed how we could spread this time out over the year so that it is not too intrusive on their time.

"There are big benefits of this to the system and the kids."

It was also agreed that teachers themselves would be used to provide the staff development training, and be paid at a premium rate.

Previously, said Ms. Nusum, they had been just paid over-time. Now teachers will be paid $60 an hour to hold workshops for their colleagues.