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Interrupting school year opening would be ‘atrocious’

While applauding the signing of a new industrial agreement with the Bahamas Educators, Counselors and Allied Workers Union (BECAWU), Minister of Education Glenys Hanna-Martin said any interruption in the opening of the school year would be “atrocious”.

Bahamas Union of Teachers (BUT) President Belinda Wilson said last month the union and the government have reached an impasse on negotiations for a new industrial agreement and action was imminent. However, Wilson indicated on Friday that both sides were closer than ever to reaching an agreement.

Hanna-Martin said students deserve an uninterrupted opportunity to access education.

“Come August 22, the children of this nation should go to the classrooms and they should find a level of stability in their education,” she said.

“They deserve that. … Our children are such 

incredible resources and we have to get them back on track. And come August 22, I am hopeful and prayerful that the children [and] young people of this nation will find stability that will help them chart a course in their future in this nation.”

The minister was speaking at the signing of a new industrial agreement between the government and BECAWU on Friday, the first ever industrial agreement for the breakaway educators’ union.

The deal was negotiated and agreed in less than a year. On April 1, 2022, BECAWU was accepted as a bargaining agent by the government and the deal was signed on August 5, 2022.

Answering questions following the signing, Hanna-Martin said, “We are trusting that the young people of this nation will not face a disruption in their education. Education is a human right. Not only [that]. It’s within the context of a pandemic. … We do not wish to see any disruption, particularly in the context of what has happened in this country. It would be atrocious.”

BECAWU was registered in October 2020 and began its membership drive in April 2021. The union’s executives are mostly based in Grand Bahama, and its membership is roughly 500 or so teachers, guidance counselors and teachers’ aides, according to Sandra Major, BECAWU president.

Major said the union was pleased with what it received from the government.

“We received from them, of course, an increase in salary,” she said.

“We got an increment and this is the largest we’ve ever received over a three-year period.

“I was teaching for over 40 years and I have never received an increase this great in my salary in three years.

“We also received the retention bonus. We got an increase in our allowances, we got an increase in our rental assistance, the insurance agent gave a greater benefit to us, and so we are most grateful.”

Major added, “We recognize that in order to achieve anything, you must be willing to work together. It doesn’t have to take six years. It can take six weeks.”

Trade Union Congress President Obie Ferguson, QC, said the signing was “the most historic event in the labor movement” for a long time.

“It normally takes the labor movement two and three and four years to complete an industrial agreement, and this government, this minister of education, this president along with her executives … they got together and they got an agreement finished within 12 months,” Ferguson said.

Referencing a memorandum of understanding (MOU) some unions signed with the Progressive Liberal Party prior to the general election last September, Ferguson said, “That is the reason why we signed the MOU, for consultation dialogue with the key players.

“This country is our country. Taking industrial action and doing all sorts of things that are not necessary is not the way forward. I want to make that clear. Yes, we are going to have differences, but we are going to sit in a room and we are going to hammer it out.”

Ferguson said the government is living up to its promises to the labor movement.

“I’m not saying there won’t be strikes and all that kind of stuff,” he said.

“I am saying to you that there is a commitment that we will meet. We will discuss. We will negotiate. … That is the significance of the MOU.”