Union President, Ron Collins, explained that “With the rise of tension and in the environment of distrust with the very punitive actions that have been taken…, the St. Kitts teachers Union is launching what we call, Operation Duster.”
“Operation Duster is a series of actions and events in an effort to ensure that the rights of teachers and students are indeed protected and that ministry actions are not oppressive and punitive from their part. Operation Duster will clean up the mess, soliciting the support from all stakeholders and NGOs, the church community, government, political parties, regional and international agencies,” explained SKTU President, Ron Collins.
Operation Duster will be launched formally on Monday 21st July, 2014, in a public forum at 5:00pm, at the Oojj’s convention Center, in Camps.
Collins said the Basseterre High School situation is a two-fold problem. “It is first and foremost a public health issue and it is an occupational health and safety issue. It is not a political issue.”
He said it is their hope that there will be open discussions on the recently received reports from CARIRI and CARPHA. “We should get our best minds in the area of science and medicine to analyze and to monitor the implementation of the recommendations. All stakeholders have a right to be involved in this process. The Labour Department must be present in the discussion.”
But the SKTU President said they are also mindful that they are operating in an environment of great distrust. “How can the same players, who have been there before; who have put their own spin on past reports; how can these same players who have fought us about the genuineness of our illness, who have lied to us, now come and implement these recommendations without monitoring and supervision. There has been no meaningful action to rebuild trust on their part. We have not been allowed any audience with the minister since the CARIRI and CARPHA preliminary reports some months ago.”
“Now, without any dialogue, parents must now just accept the unjust transfer of their children’s beloved and committed teachers. It is often difficult for teachers to advocate for the resources and services (that) their students need without fear of reprisals. We believe that the transfers are our punishment for speaking out on behalf of the best interest of students, families and their school. This is the same reason why teachers were reluctant, why they were hesitant, in providing information about their illnesses experienced at the school,” stated Mr. Collins
But the SKTU said it is urging the Ministry of Education to seek to resolve these issues with the teachers, through their union. Cooperation rather than conflict will strengthen our education sector and our community at large and will demonstrate respect and justice, stated Collins.
These are traits he said that we seek to install in our own children. “This Administration has promoted and promised what is called participatory democracy, (but) participatory democracy seems to be an enemy of the Ministry of Education. We call on the ministry to change its current path and embrace the idea of being more of a service and support center, than a top down dictatorial command center where its orders must never be questioned. Participatory democracy is a deliberate dialogue and discussion and decision-making process, which hears all the voices and diverse perspectives to enact meaningful change,” stated the union leader.
It provides those with decision-making authority to serve with a deeper understanding of issues and consolidated around a common purpose, forging a collective decision out of individual interest.
Collins however revealed that they received from the ministry, late Tuesday afternoon, the CARIRI and the CARPHA reports. He added that the CARIRI report has been here for a very long time.
Now that they are in their possession, the union has circulated them to all members so that they can see for themselves what the reports suggest.
As a result of the decision of the General Council the St. Kitts Teachers Union has formed a panel of experts in science and medicine to review the report and to advise accordingly. The panel is still at its work.
Collins also revealed that they have received an invitation from the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Education, asking them to meet on Friday, (18th July). “We have not had enough time to review the report and receive information from the panel. We must be able to attend a meeting where our discussions will be regarded (and) our opinions will be valued.
The union is however offering a way forward in the stalemate, saying it is their desire to relax any efforts that it is contemplating. The union has already threatened industrial action if its members are punished for the role they have played in the work of their union.
Collins said, “Once proper negotiations and discussions are in place; once the recommendations are being implemented in a transparent manner; once the punitive actions of the ministry are not implemented” then the union would not pursue industrial actions.