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Teachers union to vote on appropriate action

By Natlie S.Flemming, Antigua Sun, 31 May 2000

Tomorrow is decision day for members of the Antigua & Barbuda Union of Teachers, who will cast their votes to decide the action they will take in order to get the government to address their outstanding concerns.

Among these concerns are a new collective bargaining agreement; the non-payment of retroactive pay; and the removal of the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Education, Vincent Benjamin, from the Appeals Committee.

This committee hears appeals from teachers whose first application for upgrading to the classification of AT1, by way of meritorious service, is denied.

Although they do not oppose the position of permanent secretary being represented on the committee, union officials claim that Benjamin has demonstrated he has no intention of advancing this matter.

In addition, they claim he has made several derogatory remarks about the teachers who stand to benefit under the meritorious service clause.

President of the A&BUT Colin Greene will address the teachers at the annual conference at the Multipurpose Centre.

Although union officials are tightlipped about their likely course of action, there is a distinct possibility that such action could be a strike, a sick-out, or a go-slow.

The potential industrial action by teachers would take place at a crucial time in the school's calendar. Schools are in the midst of CXC examinations, and primary and post-primary exams are upcoming.

The teachers are dissatisfied because they have not received word from government on the status of the contract they submitted since 1995.

They are also claiming that the stalemate between Benjamin and teachers has worsened, since he allegedly challenged the executive of the teachers union to an open fight, reportedly claiming that he is worth more than all the teachers put together.

Benjamin is reported to have made that statement during a meeting with union officials on Monday.

The A&BUT executive reported Benjamin's behaviour to its membership during its school visitation programme, and teachers, too, are puzzled and disturbed by the permanent secretary's behaviour.

They have indicated they are willing to take mass action to regain respect and to remove any obstacle to their progress.

Tomorrow's agenda will also seek to protect the integrity of union members, who are calling on relevant officials to deal with the matter in the interest of peace, justice, and the nation's children.

Teachers Week is currently being celebrated.