By RICARDO WELLS
Tribune Staff Reporter
EDUCATION Minister Jeffery Lloyd yesterday called grievances raised by the Bahamas Union of Teachers this week “legitimate,” but urged the union to be patient as the government works to “resolve the issues”.
In an interview with The Tribune yesterday, Mr Lloyd said while the problems presented seem severe, he was of the view that “patient and understanding minds” could come to an agreement on many of the issues raised by BUT President Belinda Wilson during an impassioned speech on Wednesday before a group of disgruntled teachers.
Mr Lloyd said he is working “night and day, day and night, non-stop” to address the things the government is at fault for in the dispute, while “weighing all options” on the things “we’ve already made right”.
On Wednesday Mrs Wilson said the union was preparing to file a trade dispute over several ongoing issues, including the union’s access to campuses, the rights of teachers, unresolved issues at several schools and unpaid confirmation wages owed from September.
At the time of her claims, Mrs Wilson said if the issues were not resolved to the union’s satisfaction, it would take industrial action.
The BUT filed its dispute yesterday afternoon, according to Labour Director Robert Farquharson.
Meanwhile, for his part, Labour Minister Dion Foulkes said he expected the dispute letter to go through the “normal processes” before any action could be taken by the BUT.
In response yesterday, Mr Lloyd told The Tribune: “I am aware, as I am sure you are, that the union in this case has a legitimate grief. They are owed money.
“Now while we differ on how many of them are owed under the guidelines of our agreement, the issue is that several of them are still waiting to be paid. We can’t run away from that. We have to fix that.”
The BUT remains adamant that 753 teachers have not received a $1,000 lump sum payment as guaranteed to newly confirmed teachers by an industrial agreement.
However, according to Mr Lloyd, a vast majority of those teachers were added to the public service via agreements that prohibited them from the payment - contracted teachers; retired teachers that were reengaged and persons hired as aides, were all identified as groups prohibited form the payment.
Mr Lloyd also confirmed that he and several senior staffers in the Ministry of Education met with Mrs Wilson and other representatives from the BUT on Monday.
Of the meeting, Mr Lloyd said: “We sat in with them and heard the concerns. I announced during that meeting that I would have to leave before we were done. I asked Mrs Wilson to continue on with the meeting without me, but she refused.”
He added: “My actions were not intended as a slight or disrespect, I made it clear that I had a limited window and I tried to steer the meeting in a direction that would allow us to cover as much as we could before I had to leave. I thought she would have been okay to continue once I made my exit. She objected. The meeting ended.”
The Tribune asked Mr Lloyd if he believes his departure led to Mrs Wilson’s actions, he said he didn’t believe so, but insisted he has always “kept the communication lines opened.”
“Whatever was said (Wednesday) was generated by her idea to do what she viewed as best for the those involved,” he said. “I have been clear with this from day one, I believe teachers are extremely critical to everything we do at the Ministry of Education. Therefore, I am dedicated and focused on doing right by them.
“I do believe what we saw on Wednesday was disappointing, but the issue is money, and again, they have a right. We asked them to be patient, and we are working to fix this. We have pleaded with them, and we are trying to find the money. We want the same thing. We want our children to have the best education possible. A proper education,” Mr Lloyd said.
Mr Lloyd also rejected the notion that some teachers were being mistreated by administrators.
Additionally, he denied claims the union was being barred from various campuses.