CUT Wants Better Deal For Teachers

Barbados Daily Nation, Thursday 28 August 2003

Immediate past president of the Caribbean Union of Teachers (CUT) Colin Greene, made a passionate plea for improved working conditions for school teachers in the region.

Greene made the call as he delivered the feature address at the official opening of the 31st biennial conference of the CUT held in St Vincent and the Grenadines recently.

Speaking before a large audience at the Methodist Church Hall in downtown Kingstown, Greene outlined many of the woes faced by teachers in the region and called on policy makers to initiate the necessary changes. In his address, Greene took a lash at policy makers as he said, what is written on paper, is not reflected in practice.

He said many schools across the region were plagued by adverse, yet solvable, environmental problems. The outgoing president said that often issues relating to teacher's health and safety were greatly overlooked. Poor air quality, influenced by conditions that contain a host of pollutants including laboratory chemicals, cleaning supplies, chalk dust and moulds were of major concern to teachers, he said. Apart from these, there is noise pollution, a problem in many schools across the region.

Additionally, he said, we must consider the security of our schools. He called on policy makers to develop comprehensive plans where school security was concerned. He said: Over the past two years across the region, we have had teachers' lives threatened; secondly, teachers and students were killed on the school compound. Neither students nor teachers can perform at their best if they do not feel safe.

Greene said further there was an increased level of violent crimes creeping into Caribbean society and schools, which as micro communities of society, were reflecting the violent aspect of our society. On a personal note, the outgoing president said that he also fell victim to death threats at his school and the hurtful thing was that he had to explain such to his small child.

In his wide ranging address Greene added: I wish to point out that common sense tells us that the most effective teacher is one that is alive. Research done by the Civil Society Network for Public Education in the Americas shows clearly that the stress of teaching is killing some of our teachers. High blood pressure, heart disease, frequent colds, throat and larynx problems are all too common among our teachers.

He said too, that the issue of teacher remuneration and teacher migration were both interrelated and must be taken seriously in the Caribbean. He said we must be aware that a number of industralised countries were trying to resolve their teacher shortage problems by seeking to recruit teachers from the Caribbean. Governments must realise that if we are to keep our teachers, then there must be a resolve to improving the conditions within the profession, he said.

He said there was always great difficulty where the negotiation of contracts were concerned as is the case in Guyana, Jamaica and Bermuda. In the case of Jamaica, the government sought to reduce benefits that were once enjoyed by teachers. In addition, the nature of the negotiation process was so long and drawn out that it did not embody the principles of good faith which all teachers' unions seek.

In a similar situation, the government of Bermuda invoked the Labour Dispute Act and sent a dispute between the government and the Bermuda Union of Teachers to binding arbitration. Worst of all was the situation in Guyana. Greene said: Though the cause of the teachers was just, we believe that some of the government's response threatened some of the fundamental rights of unions. The government discontinued the deduction of membership dues on behalf of the union. The intent of such action must be taken seriously.

He said the CUT considers such actions as vindictive, mean-spirited and solely directed at destroying a union that has made its contribution to that country. He said governments must realise that teachers' unions must be treated with dignity and that, we are involved in the process of collective bargaining not ‘collective begging’.

It will be difficult to convince teachers who live at or below the poverty line, who are constantly vilified by the media or by government officials, who receive little respect from parents and students that they must accept their lot in life when there appears to be green grass on the other side.

The CUT represents teachers from Bermuda in the north to Suriname in the south. CUT is also an affiliate of Education International (EI) whose headquarters are located in Brussels, Belgium. During the conference, teachers discussed issues such as health and safety, teacher remuneration, teacher appraisal, professional development and teacher migration.