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
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
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.
realise that if we are to keep our teachers, then there must be a
resolve to improving the conditions within the profession, he
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,
involved in the process of collective bargaining not ‘collective
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.