The impasse featuring the Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union (BSTU) and the Principal of Alexandra School, Mr. Jeff Broomes can only be characterized as a comedy of errors or rather a tragedy of incompetence on the part of the Ministry of Education and the Personnel Administration Division. Before I proceed, let me state that I am firmly behind the BSTU. Nonetheless, I will endeavour to be fair to all sides.
The BSTU is one of the oldest trade unions in Barbados, with a proud history of achievements on behalf of its members. In the recent past, it has been overshadowed by the younger and more partisan political Barbados Union of Teachers whose main achievements, in its relatively short history, seems to be positioning its executive officers for higher office in the Ministry of Education and now in Government. But for its constant wrangling with Jeff Broomes, the BSTU goes about its business, almost unnoticed by the public, in a calm and dignified manner.
On the other hand, Mr. Broomes, who has been able to mount a façade of caring for the children in his charge, continues to provoke controversy whenever he is out of the limelight for any extended period. He usually catapults himself to national notice by making statements that are calculated to be controversial, and then he invites reaction by saying things like, “Bring it on!” Rather than keep quiet in order to avoid an escalation of the current episode, he allowed himself to be quoted in the Nation saying that he would do it again. He is aware of what transpired when he made the offending statement the first time. Why would he do it again if not to enflame passions and call attention to himself? However, while he is basking in all the attention that he is receiving, the children that he loves and cares so much about that should be his focus are going without instruction at this crucial juncture.
Despite my criticism of Jeff Broomes, he is not totally at fault. The saga starring Uncle Jeff has been allowed to fester for far too long while the agencies of Government that are responsible discipline sat on their hands to the detriment of the students, and also to the detriment of the teachers’ health. If the Ministry of Education and the Personnel Administration had administered a little medicine in the early stages of this problem, there would be no reason to require radical surgery to remove this gangrenous limb of the education system.
Now that the long suffering teachers have declared that they are no longer prepared to endure Broomes’ brand of management and the ministry’s lethargy, they are being abused due in part to the fact that the media refuse to fairly put their side. Teachers at Alexandra have every right to protect themselves since no one else seems to be doing it. Even the police appeared to side with Broomes and prevented the union from marching by exercising power that they do not have. Union marches, funerals and marches by the Barbados Regiment are exempted from the provisions of the Public Order Act. Put simply, the Police have no authority to prevent a union march. Teachers have opted to withdraw their labour as is their right under the provisions of the Trade Union Act. Some overzealous commentators have even called for the dismissal of the striking teachers. Would they like it if they were dismissed for standing up for their rights? They should be aware that they are calling on the authorities to commit a criminal act. Section 40A of the Trade Union Act states:
40A. An employer who –
(a) dismisses a workman or adversely affects the employment or alters the position of a workman to his prejudice because that workman –
(i) is or proposes to become an officer, delegate or member of a trade union,
(ii) being a member of a trade union which is seeking better labour conditions, is dissatisfied with his conditions.
(iii) has absented himself from work without leave after he has made an application for leave for the purpose of carrying out his duties or exercising his rights as an officer or delegate of a trade union and such leave has unreasonably been refused or withheld, or
(iv) takes part in trade union activities outside or, with the consent of the employer, within working hours: or
(b) threatens to dismiss a workman or to adversely affect the employment or alter the position of a workman to his prejudice –
(i) because that workman is or proposes to become an officer, delegate or member of a trade union or other combination which has applied to be registered as a trade union, or
(ii) with intent to dissuade or prevent that workman from becoming an officer, delegate or member of a trade union.
is guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding $1,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months or to both.
The normally docile teachers at Alexandra School have been extremely slow to anger but having reached that point. They are resolute in their stance and have determined, come what may, they are no longer working with Jeff Broomes. The lambs have roared.
The ball is now in the court of the Ministry of Education and the Personnel Administration Division. They have several options to bring closure to this mess, namely:
They can transfer all the teachers involved and send a new set to Alexandra to be demoralized;
They can transfer Broomes but since he is appointed as Principal of Alexandra, he would have to consent to any such transfer; or
Broomes could be retired from the Teaching Service in accordance with the provisions of section 8(1) of the Pensions Act where an officer can be retired, “on becoming unfit in the opinion of the Governor-General, for the discharge of the duties of his office, though not suffering from any particular illness or infirmity likely to be permanent…”
No more excuses, no more political interference in the Teaching Service. The children at Alexandra School deserve much better, and the teachers need some much deserved relief so that they can once again concentrate on teaching.