By MORGAN ADDERLEY
Tribune Staff Reporter
EDUCATION Minister Jeff Lloyd said yesterday his ministry has addressed all 20 initial complaints listed by the teachers of C H Reeves Junior High School in their trade dispute, however he added “every single day” the teachers raise another issue.
Mr Lloyd said these new issues cannot be accommodated as they are in addition to the original 20 complaints.
The South Beach MP added the matter of the teachers being awarded a strike certificate is still before the office of the Attorney General, which is determining the validity of the strike vote the teachers held on December 7. On that date, 62 C H Reeves teachers out of 74 voted in favour of a strike, the Bahamas Union of Teachers confirmed to The Tribune.
This decision was a result of issues at the school that included a suspicion of mould in 12 classrooms, leakage in a few of the classrooms, termite infestation and leaky toilets in one block of the girls’ bathrooms.
“You know that…teachers two weeks ago filed a trade dispute,” Mr Lloyd told The Tribune yesterday. “They listed 20 items that they were dissatisfied about. That dispute was heard before the industrial relations board at the Department of Labour. At that time, some discussions were had and there was a further meeting planned for January 7.
“But in the meantime, every single concern raised by the teachers at C H Reeves have been addressed. And those that have not been addressed are being addressed.
“For instances, we expect by the start of school in January that the 13 brand-new classrooms will be available for occupancy and use by the teachers,” Mr Lloyd continued. “We have sorted that matter out. We have been working to sort out the issue with regard to mould. There is an analyst who has done the investigations and taken the samples. We are awaiting those results.
“And when they are…whatever remedial steps must be taken, we will take them and we don’t expect that there will be any remediation necessary because now the teachers will have a new classroom in which to conduct their educational experience. But everything else, every single thing that the C H Reeves teachers have complained about, we have, have, I say have, addressed.”
Nevertheless, Mr Lloyd said new concerns are being raised.
“I do notice, however, I am advised by our team here, that every single day there is seemingly another issue that they seek to raise, which we cannot accommodate, simply because (they) have filed a trade dispute, it contains 20 items, and those 20 items have been addressed and the mould issue is being addressed,” he said.
When asked for specifics on these issues, Mr Lloyd pointed to a problem with the art room.
“There was some issue with the art room and that there is a leak in the art room, which, of course, was not a part of the original complaint. But even so, if there’s a problem with the art room — listen, the teachers are the most important resource that we have in this educational experience.
“Why wouldn’t we, as a ministry, do everything we can to make the teachers’ experience, their working environment, as safe and hospitable and as productive as possible? That’s our commitment. We must do that. So if you have a complaint, we’re obviously going to address it. That’s necessary for us.
“So the art room is a concern…if necessary we’ll just move the art room.”
In response to these claims, BUT President Belinda Wilson told The Tribune she is not aware of teachers raising additional concerns.
“The (BUT) expects the Ministry of Education to have all repairs completed by January 7, 2019. I urge the minister to follow up on the work to ensure that you have the correct information. The mould problem still exists. We do not accept the report of the Department of Environmental Health and consider it incomplete. We have asked for an independent company to complete assessment and remediation. We await that results. The classes that could not be used for the past five weeks are still not being used.
“Teachers are returning to school when school reopens but the environment at the schools where we raised issues this term must be addressed now.”
Mr Lloyd also addressed the circumstances surrounding the teachers’ strike certificate. Two days after their strike vote was held, 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.
“The Attorney General’s Office is now researching to determine the validity of that strike vote in respect to first of all the Industrial Relations Act, and also in terms of the industrial agreement,” Mr Lloyd said. “I have not been the beneficiary of that opinion at this time, I don’t believe that they have concluded their research in that matter.”
Mrs Wilson also said no official has confirmed to her as yet when the certificate will be given.
Meanwhile Mr Lloyd also said there will be a follow-up meeting with the industrial relations board on January 7. When asked if he expects teachers to be in place when school reopens on January 7, Mr Lloyd answered in the affirmative.
“There’s no question about it…They’re in place this week. They are doing their work this week, they are marking papers, putting in the grades, and so on. Across the system, including C H Reeves will be in place.”
Mr Lloyd said the new classrooms will be ready for use, adding he received a temporary occupancy certificate on Tuesday.
“We are waiting on the elevator, which will, as soon as it arrives, be installed. Because as you know, according to the Disability Act, all public buildings have to be disability friendly. The elevator is on its way here. Soon as it comes, in a few days, it will be installed and tested and then will be available for those students (and faculty) who need it.”