NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Bahamas Union of Teachers president Belinda Wilson yesterday claimed more than 1,200 teachers have engaged in some form of industrial action in protest of working conditions, the hybrid schedule, and disrespectful treatment as public schools across the country return to hybrid learning this week.
Dozens of teachers at the T.A Thompson and Sybil Strachan Schools staged a sick out yesterday after returning to the classroom to “unsafe working conditions”.
Wilson outlined priority concerns for her membership and responded to criticisms of her advocacy style as a guest on Beyond The Headlines with host Shenique Miller.
She said a major concern for her members was the hybrid schedule that teachers feel would further disadvantage students.
“First of all let me be clear, we want face-to-face learning. We were calling for face to face long time,” she said.
“This hybrid model that they have implemented as of Monday, some students will only go to school one day face-to-face, some only two days. So that means your child that you want to get back into face-to-face is going to be home with you for four days, and the others will be home with you for three days.
“The teachers will not be teaching them virtually, there will be worksheets uploaded to the virtual platform. I don’t know if parents truly understand what they were fighting for.”
Wilson said: “We’re saying no, let them come for five days. What education needs to do is make sure health and safety protocols are followed.”
The BUT president said she has spent more than 30 hours in discussions with her 3,000-strong membership since Thursday, adding the union’s concerns and expectations for the reopening of schools were fully documented and shared with education officials.
“When you see me, don’t think that’s just Belinda, there are 3,000 behind me,” Wilson said.
“They noted that we only had 466 persons who did not go to school, so that is their narrative. We have the documentation, we have the numbers, and we had more than 1,200 of our members throughout the Commonwealth of The Bahamas who did some form of industrial action.”
Wilson acknowledged the union’s position has received public backlash with some characterizing her approach as combative and politically motivated.
The BUT president said she understands parents may be emotional about the return to face-to-face learning after two year; however, she urged the public to understand that teachers were only advocating in the best interests of their students.
She said she wrote incoming minister Glenys Hanna-Martin in September listing some 34 concerns that covered “not only health and safety, not only reopening of schools but the curriculum and grievances and illegal transfers and human resource matters”.
Wilson noted there is an open channel of communication with Hanna-Martin but insisted the union was more interested in getting results.
“So how many times should you just be repeating the same thing over and over,” Wilson said.
“Teachers have reached a breaking point and my job is to respond to them so my members come and give a complaint or grievance to the president. It is my obligation and duty to respond to them.
She continued: “I’m intentionally strong on the views that my members give to me to articulate to whomever the leaders are, or the government is. I believe in collaboration, I believe in consultation, I believe in building relationships. However, a union we’re not a social club.
“I’m not a trade unionist because I want to be friendly with a minister or any officer. My duty is to advocate, my duty is to represent, my duty is to agitate and ensure whatever the challenges are for my members, I am able to clearly state that to the employer and I’m also able to give recommendations.”