Wednesday, April 24, 2024

EDITORIAL: Unions need to be as one

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THE PRIMARY ROLE for trade unions and staff associations is to protect and advance the interests of their members.

In the case of the teachers’ unions, the issue of advancing professional development and training must also be key factors.

The reality in Barbados over many years is that there has been a deep divide among teachers’ unions.

So there is a variety of teachers’ unions which make up something of an alphabet jingle: BUT, BSTU, APPSS and BAPPSS, all small and fighting to maintain turf. Once again the message has been made clear to them that a united teachers’ trade union would make better sense.

Dennis de Peiza, general secretary of the Congress of Trade Unions and Staff Associations of Barbados (CTUSAB), the umbrella trade union body, is the latest to make the clarion call for these groups to unite for the common good.

Interestingly, there has been some measure of collaboration and cooperation between the Barbados Union of Teachers (BUT) and the Barbados Secondary Teachers Union (BSTU) in recent times, which may be good for the teachers and their profession.

This is a remarkable change of position considering the BUT’s position of total silence when the BSTU expected solidarity during the Alexandra School saga. It is a glimmer of hope to make teachers celebrate and Government uneasy.

This united position, however, is needed beyond those contentious public issues. These unions, whether representing a handful of principals or the wider body of teachers, need to be as one on issues ranging from advice, to negotiation, and legal assistance, to member services.

There will be obvious potential benefits and indeed pitfalls in any merger between the main teachers’ unions. It may very well be seen as more realistic for the BUT and the BSTU coming together than with the two other unions which represent principals. They, on the other hand, may find common ground in unification. The reality is that the biggest barrier to any amalgamation may be the lingering shadow of an elitist education system.

Teachers in Barbados are no longer segregated based on older grammar,  comprehensive, secondary and primary schools. They are all accepted as equals in the same noble profession, with differences based only on the posts they hold. They are bonded by common industrial issues, and as one body, would be better able to respond to common challenges.

Mergers of the teachers’ unions must not be seen as either a sign of weakness or a survival tactic, but a way of providing better and more effective services to members. The days of teachers being full-time classroom instructors and full-time trade unionists are long past.

Despite the scepticism of some, it is unlikely that a well-articulated proposal on the benefits of mergers of these trade unions will be rejected by their membership.

A good suggestion should not be derailed by a lack of vision.

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