By MORGAN ADDERLEY
Tribune Staff Reporter
BAHAMAS Union of Teachers president Belinda Wilson yesterday said the union will have to seek legal recourse if the strike vote held by C H Reeves Junior High School teachers is not certified.
On Friday, 62 teachers out of 74 at the school voted in favour of a strike, according to Mrs Wilson. Sixty-one voted “yes” and one voted “no”.
However, on Sunday, Director of Labour John Pinder said there may be an issue certifying the vote because only C H Reeves teachers participated.
Mr Pinder referred to a ruling that states that a union cannot discriminate against its members if it takes a strike vote.
In August, Labour Minister Dion Foulkes referred to this ruling during a press conference while discussing the strike vote held by the Bahamas Nurses Union earlier this summer.
“The law requires that all members, whether they vote or not, should have the opportunity to vote,” he said at the time.
Regarding Mr Pinder’s comments, Mrs Wilson told The Tribune: “The Department of Labour has conducted the poll. The teachers (of) C H Reeves Junior High School have voted – 61 yes and one no, therefore the union expects to get the strike certificate in accordance with the law.
“Mr Pinder is entitled to his opinion, but we all are governed by the law. If they refuse to grant the certificate we will have to seek a legal recourse.”
Mrs Wilson defended the strike and expressed her pride in the teachers’ actions.
“I am proud of the teachers at C H Reeves Junior High School who stood up for their rights and stood in solidarity with each other,” she told The Tribune.
“Teachers, or any workers, should not be expected to work in unsafe, unsanitary conditions. The results of the vote (show) the level of frustration and discontent that teachers feel working at the school in the unacceptable, deplorable conditions.
“Does the government really care about the nation’s children?”
Last month, Joan Knowles-Turnquest, then BUT’s acting president, said teachers were working in untenable conditions.
“Classes are being held outside and under a pavilion, four individual classes are packed into the school’s auditorium,” Ms Knowles-Turnquest said.
“Teachers have broken out with skin diseases, upper respiratory ailments, we had a few miscarriages, and God knows what else is out there that we are not addressing,” she said.
“These are hardworking and dedicated teachers who are working (under) conditions that are unhealthy and hazardous to their health. I think health is more important than anything else. We have students getting sick and we have teachers getting sick so we stand in unison with our teachers,” Ms Knowles-Turnquest said.
Vernon Rodgers, BUT area vice-president of New Providence, said last month: “One of the major problems is the roof that is leaking...there are some chemicals in the roof that we are not aware of and the ministry cannot give us any answers. The (chemical) drips on them and it burns their skin, sclerosis, teachers’ thyroid glands, swollen because of the environment.
“The teachers and the unions have questions and the government has yet to give any answers.”
Before this, Education Minister Jeff Lloyd said the Ministry of Education requested the assistance of Anthony Ryan of the Environmental Monitoring Risk Assessment Division in the Department of Environmental Health, who assessed the school’s affected classrooms, finding what he described as recognised environmental concerns, including dust and accumulated dirt. He subsequently formulated a prescription to rectify those issues, Mr Lloyd said, adding that a contractor was immediately hired to conduct the remediation process. This included the removal of mildew, the cleaning of dust on ceiling beams, and the cleaning of air-conditioning units, window sills and elsewhere.
Other contractors made repairs to a leaky roof and to faulty toilets in one of the female students’ bathrooms, the minister had said previously.