WITU President Stuart Johnson addressing the members.
PHILIPSBURG--Many Windward Islands Teachers Union (WITU) members skipped the classroom and gathered at John Larmonie Center on Tuesday from 7:30am to 1:30pm.
WITU President Stuart Johnson explained what exactly led to members requesting that this meeting be held. He said this mostly was due the lack of communication and acknowledgement of the memberships’ concerns. Repeated requests for answers and dialogue between the union and government were not honoured.
The WITU board and its members took this time to set out and discuss all the issues and matters they wished to be resolved. A range of pressing issues were brought forward. One main concern was the recent letter sent by Prime Minister and Minister of General Affairs Silveria Jacobs on January 27 addressing the letter outlining the removal of the Temporary National Ordinance COVID-19 cuts in employment conditions for public servants.
Members made known that many of the points were unacceptable, considering that many of their concerns stemmed from even before the COVID-19 pandemic. One point brought forward was the cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) dating back to 2012.
It was also noted that several WITU members are nearing pension and are increasingly concerned with lack of attention given to the COLA. Fears about not seeing this dealt with before they retire were brought forward. “Without having this addressed, it puts their pension in a precarious position, because they are not getting what they are entitled to receive,” said Johnson.
Members also brought forth the vacation schedule issued by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Youth and Sport (ECYS). They noted that this 2023/2024 school schedule boasts an early start expected of teachers (July 31), thus taking away from their period of rest before the start of the new school year. “They are asking for the Minister of ECYS to reconsider and amend the vacation schedule and allow for a later start date. The membership proposed August 10,” Johnson said.
The pensionable age also came up, with members of the union voicing their concerns on the age point of 67. It was noted that reaching the age of 67, especially in their profession, will become very much taxing on their overall health and well-being. A decision was taken that it is unacceptable and any steps taken towards the path of further ratification of that measure must be halted.
Those members who participated in the summer school programmes have still not been paid what they are. They expressed their need of a definitive date for payment and to have this handled.
The union took seriously concerns brought forward by many members on intimidation tactics that were being used to discourage their right to assemble. Johnson made clear that unions are allowed to meet with their membership.
The union sent letters to the prime minister and to all school boards addressing the noted intimidation methods and saying that this will not stand. Johnson made clear that the members have a right to assemble with their union.
Johnson stated that the membership will meet once again on Wednesday and will continue to do so until the union gets an audience with government to address their list of concerns.
Notably, representatives of fellow trade unions Windward Islands Civil Servants’ Union/Private Sector Union (WICSU/PSU, St. Maarten Communication Union (SMCU), police union NAPB and Windward Islands Health Care Union Association WIHCHUA were present in solidarity with WITU.
Johnson further encouraged all civil servants to join the members of WITU in solidarity.