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‘Govt owes teachers $1.5m back payments’

By EARYEL BOWLEG

Tribune Staff Reporter

ebowleg@tribunemedia.net

BAHAMAS Union of Teachers president Belinda Wilson said some teachers in her union are owed an estimated $1.5m in back pay from the government.

She said some people were owed pay going back 20 years.

During a union press conference yesterday, the conversation about the public service backlog and teachers receiving compensation was brought up.

 Mrs Wilson stated: “Several months ago, I turned into education and the public service, about 1,000 names of teachers who had various human resource issues pertaining to promotions, confirmation, back pay, etc, and I’m pleased to say that I’ve received within the last three months about 650 of those names and education now has that list and will be meeting in another few weeks to make sure that they work through the process.

 “There has to be improvement in education in the human resource department to ensure that once documentation has been provided to you or submitted to you, that the process is done in a more timely manner.”

 Asked about the issue of back pay, she said: “Some of those persons were owed now 20 years, 15 years, 10 years. So that’s why when you see me in the media and I’m saying hey, get the job done, do your work. Let’s do it.”

 Asked how much was owed, Mrs Wilson said: “If I have to give it a guesstimation I would say probably around $1.5 million somewhere thereabouts.”

 She added the Department of Education is “really lacking” in the human resources area.

 She said there are some teachers who have been waiting ten to 12 years for confirmation.

 “When we dig deep then it’s the Department of Education did not send a document to the Ministry of the Public Service.

 “So the public service is unable to process or complete the processing of a teacher’s file until they have all of the documentation necessary for them to complete their work.”

 Mrs Wilson mentioned that the union has been over many years trying to get a Teaching Service Authority. She noted one attempt that was done incorrectly left the matter unaddressed to date.

 “So in 2001 when there was the referendum, that was the only article that passed, however it was incorrectly drafted because it was drafted as a Teaching Service Commission and you cannot have a Teaching Service Commission if you have a Public Service Commission. So you can have a Teaching Service Authority. From 2001 to present, it has not been addressed and it has to be addressed through a referendum because it’s actually entrenched in the constitution.”

 Mrs Wilson said the government will have to have the political will to do it, but she does not see that will at this time. She pointed out in negotiations when they tried to put a timeline on when it should be done there was push back from the government negotiators.

 “At least we were able to get it in the agreement again but without timelines to me, you just leave it really hanging in the wind. We will continue to agitate and advocate for the Teaching Service Authority because we believe that it will give a focus on recruitment and retention, along with discipline, training, professional development, all of those aspects.”

 Meanwhile, she responded to Education Minister Glenys Hanna Martin expressing her ministry’s concerns about the increasing number of teachers who are opting not to be transferred to the Family Islands amid a shortage of specialty educators on those islands.

 The BUT president claimed some teachers have requested to be reassigned to the Family Islands and were turned down.

 “I don’t know if I agree with what the minister said and I believe that the minister is using an antidotal situation and not data driven information. Teachers have requested to be reassigned to the Family Islands, and they’ve been turned down by the Department of Education. Furthermore, why would you want to go to the Family Islands when as I speak with you today, there are teachers who have been in the Family Islands since August and they have not received $1 rent.”

 She further stated: “So when education improves on their service to teachers, when teachers would be more open to freely say yes, we want to go to the Family Island, but when you’re going to the Family Island, and you cannot get rent in a timely manner.

 “When you’re going to the Family Island, and the union has already negotiated for you to get a geographical posting allowance, where you should purchase your ticket, where you’ll be able to put your personal items on the mail boat, and you’re unable to gather - you’re waiting two or three months to receive geographical posting allowance.”

“When you get to the Family Island, and you have to sleep on another teacher’s floor because they did not provide temporary housing for you. Tell me if anyone is going to leave their home after they’ve spent four years educating themselves to go to a Family Island to be treated as a second-class citizen.”