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Has the Grenada Union of Teachers lost its way?

One of the main aims of a trade union is to protect and advance the interests of its members in the workplace. Whereas fair remuneration is a key interest to be looked after by the Union, it is also fair to say that it should not be the only fixation of any Trade Union.

It is therefore worrying to me that in this era, the name “Grenada Union of Teachers” is contiguous with ‘money’; salary negotiations or some other financial issue. This is not to say that teachers, public servants and indeed all salaried or contract workers aren’t entitled to increases to combat inflation, increased taxes and high cost of living.

In fact, one can indeed commend the current GUT President and his executive for what he/they may call the endless struggle and fight to secure pension and annual salary increases for teachers.

During the height of the pandemic, the Union marched tirelessly to advance their cause. Notwithstanding this, some members of the public deemed the last round of industrial action to be unreasonable and inconsiderate. Their justification was that the then Government had routinely paid annual negotiated increases and had merely requested a deferral in order to focus on Covid stimulus packages to assist other workers (hospitality industry) who had been out of work for a while; but I digress.

The issue here is that the President and Executive of the Grenada Union of Teachers seem to be bereft of ideas regarding anything save money squabbles or deserved increases; depending on which perspective the reader may have. The rank and file of the union seem largely unaffected by and/or oblivious to this fixation.

In fact, I am certain that most teachers are immensely satisfied with the current President, and the way in which he has led the Union Executive. I dare to predict that even if contested, the current GUT president will be voted back into office. Is this writer similarly impressed? Unfortunately, the response to this is no.

Firstly, under the previous administration, the Union wasted several opportunities to leverage the Government for improvement through fringe benefits. Initiatives such as free teacher training at TAMCC, seeking permanence/tenure for teachers who have been in a position beyond a certain number of years, are examples of bargaining chips that the Union could have taken to the government in return for an acceptance of the deferral.

Instead, the Union rallied workers to march, and protest, and reflect, until the government paid the increase, in my opinion, just when they would have paid it anyway. However, teachers believed that they won that battle. Maybe they were right.

Now, the Union has announced that they have approached the Government for a 9% salary increase each year for the next three years. Again, this is easy to do, and it seamlessly fits the predictable modus operandi of this GUT President and Executive; Money, money money!!!

I listened intently to the rant of the President on GBN’s To the Point program. It certainly sounded like he had some things to get off his chest, and he grabbed the opportunity to do so, as is his right. He seemed to indicate that he and the Prime Minister were kindred spirits in terms of their simplicity and their rise to power in their respective spheres.

Maybe he can take a page from the Prime Minister’s book, to understand that not all battles are fought loudly or aggressively. What was sad however, was that in spite of a spate of unsavory activities within our schools, such as the infamous ‘box’ which a parent doled out to a certain secondary school student ‘on the hill’, or the alleged ‘roughing up’ of another teacher by family members in another St. George Secondary School, the President seemed to draw a blank on workable ideas or suggestions on what could or should be done to mitigate or eradicate if possible these occurrences.

It was glaring that the Executive of the Union has not convened to deliberately ruminate on these matters and develop some action plan, some policy that it can take to the Ministry (Government of Grenada) and seek its implementation.

Instead, when asked about a suggested remedy, the President blustered a tepid response then quickly passed the buck on to the Ministry of Education, to say that nothing has come from them in terms of how these situations should be dealt with.

Although he is correct, and these policies should be driven by the Administrators, it certainly does not mean that just like the Union lobbied, rested and reflected, took to the streets etc., that it cannot, develop a course of action, present it to the Ministry for consideration and take a stance to ensure that it is adopted and implemented in whole or in part.

In as much as salary increases are important, of equal, or arguably, of more importance is the safety of the membership of the Union and the students placed in its care daily. At the forefront of my mind are some possibilities that the Union may consider and develop on.

These include:

A request for all schools to be properly fenced and gated by a certain date.

The placement of two (2) trained security guards in each secondary school, one in each primary school to be fully paid by the government.

A uniformed or plain clothed policeman and woman in each secondary school. In addition to keeping the peace, there can be several other benefits that emanate from adopting this move.

A trained medical professional in each school – preferably a nurse. Again, the advantages of implementing this will be far-reaching; from delivering and teaching first aid, to treating minor injuries thus easing the load at the hospital, to presentations on different aspects of health. The list can go on and on.

Is the Executive of the Union attuned to safety at schools? Why aren’t they reading the room – the social climate? Do their concerns not extend to the psychosocial conditions under which their membership works?

It is extremely easy to sit around a table and bargain for a fair increase. This is a noble cause of course, but is this all that there is to Unionism? I call on the Executive of the Union to step up its game, and on the rank and file of the GUT to demand more from your leaders.

Elections are looming; yes, it is important to elect a leader who will fight for your financial betterment, but leadership goes miles beyond this, or at least it should. The Executive arm of the Grenada Union of Teachers ought to be one of the most analytical and erudite teams, driving growth and better working conditions for its members.

Frankly, this has not been evident in recent years. Members, whoever leads you, insist that they aren’t proverbial ‘one trick ponies,’ but that they are forward-thinking representatives who bring depth in discussion, clarity of vision and a real desire and plan to improve the Union holistically.

The Vested Observer