By RICARDO WELLS
Tribune Staff Reporter
PUBLIC schools across the country will reconvene January 7, five days later than originally planned, the Ministry of Education has announced.
This comes amidst reports being circulated yesterday that featured a communication between Bahamas Union of Teachers President Belinda Wilson and several of her members, in which she attempted to solicit support for a potential sit-out to force the government’s hand in delaying its January 2 return date in favour of January 7.
However, in a statement issued yesterday evening, education officials said the move was being made to “celebrate” teachers and administrators.
The statement read: “With schools originally slated to reopen on Wednesday, January 2, 2019, the Ministry of Education saw fit to provide an additional five holiday days for our hard-working and dedicated educators throughout the Bahamas, many of whom worked throughout the holiday season.”
When contacted for comment on those reports around noon yesterday, Mrs Wilson confirmed that plans were in place to have “some level” of action if union officials were not successful in getting a postponement.
In a brief conversation with The Tribune, Mrs Wilson said aspects of the BUT’s plan were still being worked on, adding that union representatives were in meetings for most of the day trying to finalise some of the details.
“Yes, there is truth to (those reports),” she said. “If you give me some time … I’ll be able to get back to you later this evening or tonight with what we have decided to do.”
Less than two hours later, The Tribune received an unofficial notice that a decision had been made to delay the January re-opening date by several days.
One well-placed source with knowledge of the situation told The Tribune that the Ministry of Education had rebuffed an initial request made by the BUT for the same earlier this week.
This ultimately led to BUT officials making a direct request of the Office of the Prime Minister, resulting in a meeting with Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis yesterday and an official decision to delay the re-opening of public schools.
That same source claimed the decision was made given the current “union climate,” insisting Dr Minnis opted to relent in hopes that the move would be seen as a “step towards peace.”
The BUT is one of several labour groups that have been locked in varying levels of talks with the Minnis administration in recent months.
A number of these unions have made industrial threats as a means to get the government to budge on labour disputes.
In late November, in the face of mounting labour unrest across multiple sectors, it was announced that Dr Minnis would sit down with union leaders in a large-scale meeting.
After that December 3 meeting, many of those leaders, including Mrs Wilson, branded the sit-down a flop.
“There was no commitment to anything,” Mrs Wilson said at the time, summing up the consensus.
“All I saw it as was an opportunity to regurgitate the same problems we have been articulating for years and years and years. I knew having a large number of labour leaders in one room for a few minutes could not give adequate time for the concerns.”
In the weeks following the meeting, the government struck deals with both the Consultant Physicians Staff Association and the Bahamas Doctors Union to quell work slowdown from the former and avert strike action from the latter group.
Meanwhile teachers at C H Reeves overwhelmingly voted in favour of a strike during a poll earlier this month. Last week, Education Minister Jeffrey Lloyd said 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.
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.