Jeffrey Lloyd, Minister of Education.
By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Deputy Chief Reporter
EDUCATION Minister Jeff Lloyd said formal negotiations with the Bahamas Union of Teachers are expected to begin “in days” over a new industrial agreement for the union. The previous agreement expired last June.
Mr Lloyd told reporters it is hoped these negotiations will not be acrimonious or filled with tension, adding a labour negotiator has been appointed to formulate a way forward.
He admitted formal negotiations had yet to take place despite the union presenting the government with a proposal last year.
However, BUT president Belinda Wilson said the union had not received a communication from the ministry that formal talks were to begin.
This comes after Mrs Wilson said on Friday the union planned to present the government with a letter on Monday demanding a response within seven days. That letter was not sent until yesterday.
She insisted that in recent weeks government officials had given wrong details regarding the teacher’s industrial agreement.
“A counter-proposal has already been prepared and they are being submitted as we speak to the union leadership,” Mr Lloyd said yesterday outside Cabinet.
“I have had conversations with the president, the deputy prime minister and his team have had conversations with the president and of course the president has met with the prime minister. So while there has not been formal negotiations with the union, there have been conversations and discussions and those formal negotiations are going to begin.”
He continued: “The government has appointed a particular labour negotiator who is also a part of the team and those persons are going to be gathering with the BUT in formulating a way forward by way of an industrial agreement.”
Asked how soon the negotiations would be concluded, Mr Lloyd said he could not say knowing the nature of matters like these. But from the government’s standpoint, officials were prepared and ready to go forward with negotiations, he said.
He gave no indication what the government’s counter-proposal looks like, but said it was certainly a point of discussion.
“The union obviously has objectives. We have objectives. That’s what is important for us, to have that kind of relationship. We are obviously on the same page. We want what is best for The Bahamas by way of its education system and standards.
“The union is committed to that and it’s going to be a robust and I think very lively conversation with the union and its leadership.”
He also said: “We have had a lot of conversation between myself and the president and our executive team and the union’s leadership so I think we will be very fruitful and beneficial and at the end of the day it will be for what is best for the Commonwealth of The Bahamas and our people.”
In January, The Tribune reported that the union’s proposed industrial agreement featured a 20 percent pay increase over three years among other demands.
Teachers, Mrs Wilson insisted at the time, deserved this raise as they serve in a profession that requires a bachelor’s degree prior to permanent employment at the entry level.
The union leader said a higher cost of living is another reason why teachers needed a raise.
Back then, Mr Lloyd also said the ministry was working on a counter-proposal.
However, he said, BUT’s demands had to be contextualised with the requests of other unions, adding that for too long issues like these have been one-sided.
He said the country needed to move to a point where accountability is also factored into union negotiations. Nonetheless, he said, the raise could only be considered as far as the country’s finances allowed.