PR – Ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, warmest greetings to you!
Today I take this opportunity to congratulate the newly elected President General of the Grenada Union of Teachers and the incoming executive. My sincerest appreciation to the outgoing President General and his executive for the opportunity to work with him and his team throughout their tenure. My best wishes to the outgoing members in their future endeavours.
There should be absolutely no doubt in anyone’s mind that principals and teachers are the heart of the education system. So like I did before on many occasions, I pause to recognise principals and teachers who continue to work hard to educate our children and to go the extra mile to be good role models to them.
Notwithstanding, it is with grave concern that I must address the ongoing spate of industrial action taken by teachers, on the directive of the Grenada Union of Teachers. The Ministry of Education, and by extension, the Government of Grenada, recognises and respects the right of every teacher and indeed, all workers, to be a member of any trade union and to freely participate in lawful trade union activities. These fundamental rights have been earned through the deliberate actions of our forefathers and are treasured to this day. However, with rights come responsibilities.
It is well documented that the authority for the management and administration of the education system is vested with the employer through the Ministry of Education, as set out within the Education Act of Grenada. The rights and obligations of teachers and principals and the rights of the employer are also equally well documented.
Given that understanding, it is difficult for the Ministry of Education to accept the deliberate rejection of principled leadership and the utter disregard for the established procedures that make for the resolving of disputes.
When teachers leave their classes unattended to participate in union activities for which no permission was sought, and thus putting hundreds of children at risk, the Ministry of Education must act expeditiously or risk being seen as having abdicated its responsibility to effectively manage the education system. The balance of rights and responsibilities is necessary, among other things, for societal order and for employers, employees and unions – all stakeholders to achieve their goals and objectives.
It must be noted that as a Ministry of Education, we have done everything in our power to bring to the attention of the teachers and the union our concerns:
- We have brought to teachers’ attention through principals, the concerns of the Ministry of Education in relation to their actions.
- We have provided guidance to teachers as it relates to their responsibilities that come with their rights.
- We have written to the Union expressing our concern and
- We met today with the Union to further discuss these concerns.
We intend to continue to strive for effective management, through working with all stakeholders who are committed to the process of building a better education system for our children who will one day be the leaders of this beautiful nation.
We owe it to the over 30 thousand students whose future is now uncertain because of this global pandemic. Many have suffered not only from reduced face to face engagement with teachers, but from the psychological effects of the COVID 19 pandemic. We have had many reports of abuse and strange behaviour among our students.
This is a very difficult time for all of us, especially our children. We cannot fail them now. We have a civic and moral responsibility to protect the future of this nation by any cost.
The 4% salary increase lies at the centre of the current spate of protest actions. The Government, as an employer, has been transparent in its response to the situation at hand. Government has made it clear to the Grenada Union of Teachers that as a result of the significant drop in revenue, due to the impact of COVID 19, it is unable to meet its commitment in a timely manner. The Government’s Negotiating Team further advised that the Government will make every effort to make good on its commitment on or before December 31 this year, once the financial situation improves sufficiently.
Nevertheless, the union continues to demand that payment must be made and has resorted to industrial action to bolster its demands, which is within its rights to so do.
Government has been doing everything during this pandemic to give full support to the education sector, mindful of the devastating effect this pandemic can likely have on our children and their future. Let us not lose sight of the fact that many students will need significant additional time to catch up on what they have lost. Every learning opportunity therefore counts. Before COVID 19, an assessment coordinated by the OECS Commission revealed that in Grenada, about 60% of our Grade 2 students were reading below the Grade 1 level. So at this time we are dealing with both pre-COVID and COVID related challenges of learning disparities and deficiencies.
Overcoming the challenges will require significant dedication and commitment, and the collaboration of all stakeholders in education.
Last year, the Government committed over $50 million towards improving and expanding our schools, and work now continues throughout the length and breadth of Grenada to enhance the teaching and learning environment.
Similarly, we are committed to enhancing access to technology and are investing over $35 million in the e-learning programme; providing laptops, tablets and other devices for all students and teachers from pre-schools all the way through to secondary schools. We have started distribution of over $1 million worth of furniture to address the serious problem we face, having to abandon double seating arrangements as we ensure schools are compliant with COVID 19 protocols.
Despite the significant financial challenges and demands that the Government faces, we have been able to continuously meet our monthly salary commitment to teachers, approximately $85 million annually, on time.
Our Government, when it came into office in 2013, met a situation where teachers went for four long years with no salary increases. Our Government from 2013 until last year, 2020 paid salary increases and increments every year to teachers and public officers.
From 2013 to 2020, in excess of $130 million has been paid in salary increases only. We paid in 2020 and did not even consider withdrawing that increase on the onset of the pandemic here in Grenada. We remain committed to honouring the agreed upon increase in 2021 but was unable to do so now because of the financial implications of COVID 19. Despite these challenges, Government is committed to continue paying various fringe benefits to teachers which include:
∙ Incentive Allowance
∙ Inducement Allowance
∙ Responsibility Allowance
∙ Acting Allowance
∙ Seniority Allowance
∙ 50% Concession on purchase of vehicles for all principals and teachers serving more than 15 years.
∙ 50% Health Insurance Premium for all teachers, with an extra contribution to their family plan
In the face of all of this, is it really unreasonable to ask that due consideration be given to the unforeseen events surrounding COVID-19 and the implications that the Government must manage? Is it reasonable to conclude that the Government, as an employer, has done what is necessary to insulate its workforce by protecting public service jobs?
Despite the drawbacks of COVID 19, this pandemic still presents an excellent opportunity to transform our education system. That is why we have been working aggressively on a number of initiatives, which I will brief the nation on at a later date. God has been extremely good to us as a nation and we must never appear to ignore this.
So to our parents I encourage you to give all possible support to children during the Easter vacation. Remember, our children have lost significant contact time in school and you also have a responsibility to give any form of support you can provide or solicit same for them. To those of you who have lost your jobs and have no source of income at this time, we empathise with you. Know that your Government is doing everything possible to get out of this situation including the recent launch of the COVID vaccination campaign.
To our students, particularly those who are preparing for external examinations at this time, I encourage you to stay focused and do not lose hope. Jimmy Dean once said “I can’t change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination.”
As we trust God through this crisis, let us work towards coming out of it stronger and better and may we be always be encouraged by the words in Deuteronomy 31:6 “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.”
To our principals, teachers, and ancillary staff, in faith let us look forward to the full reopening of school in the new term.
Let us work together to overcome the challenges of COVID-19.
I wish everyone a happy and holy Easter season. Remember to get vaccinated if you can, stay safe and May God bless us all.
I thank you.