NASSAU, BAHAMAS – After their cries for better working conditions continue to fall on deaf ears, teachers at the C.H. Reeves Junior High School are expected to take a strike vote as early as today, according to recently reinstated president of the Bahamas Union of Teachers (BUT) Belinda Wilson.
Wilson, who was a special guest Wednesday on Eyewitness News Beyond the Headlines talk show with host Clint Watson, said despite reservations from labour minister Dion Foulkes, the union is moving forward to take a strike vote.
“Yes, we definitely are going forward with it [strike vote],” Wilson said.
“I sent a letter to them [Ministry of Labour] yesterday [Tuesday], asking for the strike vote to take place on Friday December 7, between 9:00a.m. and 5:00 p.m.,” Wilson said.
“As of yesterday, I was able to go to the Labour Department [and] I got a letter from Labour, because as you would know, the acting [BUT] individuals would have put in for a strike poll.
“I would have received a letter from the Department of Labour stating that the entire union should be able to vote and so I am actually challenging them on that.”
According to the BUT president, section 20 of the Industrial Relations Act speaks to the Constitution having a provision for BUT members to be able to cast a ballot, but it does not say that a particular school or property is unable to take a strike vote.
“So I would have said to the Minister of Labour, Mr. Dion Foulkes, in the presence of the Prime Minister, along with the Acting Director of Labour, Mr. John Pinder, to come and do your job.
“Your job is not to advise the union, your job as minister is to cause the officers to come to CH Reeves on the date and time which we give you to conduct the poll, that’s your job,” Wilson said.
Wilson said C.H. Reeves teachers have endured mold, termites, rats, rodents, leaky roofs, open trenches in the school yard, combined classrooms, no ventilation in some rooms, yet they have still managed to put together a schedule for students to sit final exams next week.
“So, it is really annoying, it is sickening that whenever teachers stand up for their rights, it is, ‘oh they don’t love the children’. We love the children, but slavery days are over.
“What we are saying is we want a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work, but we also want to work in a healthy environment,” Wilson said.
According to the BUT president, there is a nonchalant attitude displayed toward teachers when it comes to their health and safety. She also claimed that teachers are disrespected and persons at the Ministry of Education believe that teachers are children rather than adults.
“Edicts must come down from the Ministry of Education and you don’t ask any questions, you just carry out whatever they say you are going to do, but it’s not going to happen because we have rights,” Wilson said.
“The union is here to represent our members as they have rights as employees and human beings.
“Like I tell them, you wouldn’t go and do it, your mar wouldn’t go and do it, so why you want my teachers to do it,” Wilson asked.
Moving forward, Wilson said the union has informed the Minister of Education that they are prepared to put in place a rotation to ensure that all students are able to sit their examinations next week.
The union is also prepared, she said, to allow the Ministry of Education to have until January 7 to complete their work.
“So do not pick the joneser off the street to clean the mold with generic bleach and a little bit of water,” Wilson said.
“Don’t get the joneser who you want to pay $30 or $40 dollars to and then afterwards his face is swollen.”
Teachers at CH Reeves have complained of developing respiratory issues and skin infections. Some have even claimed to have had miscarriages due to mold in the classrooms.
On Wednesday’s talk show, Wilson confirmed that there are teachers at the school who are ill.