NASSAU, BAHAMAS – Supreme Court Justice Bernard Turner has ordered the government to “restore” the salaries of pay-cut teachers a dispute over the interpretation of the order has been raised.
According to the written ruling, obtained by Eyewitness News Online last night, Turner ordered: “the government continue to pay all teachers employed at the Carlton Francis Primary School and C.H. Reeves Junior High School their salaries in accordance with the terms of their employment with, and appointment by, the government with effect from the date hereof and continuing until further or final order herein.
“Should the government have already coded, ceased payment of, or otherwise interfered with teachers’ said salaries, an order that the government restore their stories in full,” the ruling read.
The order also restrains members of the Bahamas Union Teachers (BUT) from contravening certain sections the Industrial Relations Act by refusing to report to work.
The union was further required to instruct its members to return to their specified areas of employment and report to work where they were redeployed.
The BUT celebrated the ruling after it was handed down, however, the government had a different interpretation.
“I’m really elated with the judge’s ruling,” BUT President Belinda Wilson told reporters.
“It shows that no one is above the law, including the Ministry of Education or the government of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas.
“We look forward to our teachers’ salaries being restored, we look forward to them continuing to get their pay.
“We look forward to Carlton Francis teachers walking in the gate this morning so that they can go to their little darlings as the judge ordered forthwith.
“All we wanted was justice and fair play and all the teachers want to do is teach the nation’s children in a safe healthy peaceful environment.
“So today this is a victory not only for C.H. Reeve and Carlton Francis teachers, but for workers in this country.”
According to the union’s attorney Khalil Parker, the court ordered that those salaries that were interfered with be restored, that the teachers’ salaries not be interfered with going forward, and that teachers be allowed to return to their classrooms.
However, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Education Lorraine Armbrister maintained that it was the government who won big in the hearing.
“We are very pleased that the cuts made to the salaries of the teachers at C.H. Reeves and Carlton Francis schools have been upheld by the justice and the teachers are ordered to return immediately to the schools where they have been placed or redeployed or transferred, “Armbrister said.
“So the cuts have been upheld and from this day onward we have to restore the salaries for those teachers who return to school but the cuts which we made from September have been withheld.”
Teachers of C.H. Reeves have continually expressed concerns over substandard conditions at the school, pointing to mold and water leakage in classrooms, termite and rat infestations among other things, going as far back as last year.
Teachers have periodically refused to work due to those conditions, though the ministry has claimed the issues were either addressed or being addressed.
Meanwhile, teachers at the primary school have decried “unsanitary and unsafe working conditions” related to a reported lack of running water and ongoing construction.
In September, approximately 30 teachers protested on the school’s grounds after petitioning for the school’s principal to be removed.
The union said despite teachers reporting to work, they were being locked out of the gate with police presence and security officers.
Last month, the salaries of 75 of those teachers at both schools were cut.
“The order is that they’re allowed to resume their duties so we don’t expect barricades, we don’t expect police, we expect teachers to be able to report and resume teaching at Carlton Francis in particular,” Parker told reporters yesterday.
“Now the issues at C.H. Reeves remain outstanding and the government will have to make sure that when the teachers report to work, that they are reporting to safe environments and that the union is allowed to conduct the inspection that we need to do to certify that issue.”
BUT executives said they were denied entry onto the junior high school campus earlier this month for a scheduled meeting and then escorted off of the grounds after the meeting was cancelled.
But Wilson said at the time the meeting was scheduled over a month ago for BUT executives to do a tour of the school, with ministry officials and the Office of the Attorney General, after teachers complained of mold and other health hazards.
The union was not allowed to go further than the front gate of the campus, before the police was called.
Asked yesterday whether the teachers will end their protest and go back to work, Parker said, “Our teachers have always been reporting to work.
“They have not been allowed in and the steps necessary to allow C.H. Reeves teachers to resume fully have not been taken, but we expect Carlton Francis teachers to resume their duties.
“With C.H. Reeves, the teachers will continue to report and if the classrooms are ready, they will resume teaching.
“[If not], then it is axiomatic, but they will be reporting to duty in accordance to the courts decision today and we expect the government to take notice and to realize that intransigence only leads to confrontation and we have seen the results today.”