Fri | Dec 2, 2022

Teachers in Antigua and Barbuda threaten industrial action over security at schools

Published:Monday | October 3, 2022 | 7:11 AM
The union said that teachers have been more than accommodating in giving the government ample opportunities to deal with the “reign of terror that is being imposed on us by vandals.

(CMC) - Antigua and Barbuda's Education Minister, Daryll Matthew, has described as unreasonable a decision by the Antigua and Barbuda Union of Teachers to take industrial action, if the government does not implement a 24-hour security system at all schools on the island by Tuesday.

“We have requested a meeting (on Monday) at 1:00 p.m. (local time) where we will sit and discuss and ventilate this matter. I think to suggest that by the drop of a dime the government can provide 24 hour security, irrespective of the costs to the tax payers of the country. I think it is really unreasonable and unrealistic request,” Mathew said.

Last Friday, the union's president, Castro Charles, in a letter to the government warned that teachers would embark upon industrial action on Tuesday, if the Gaston Browne administration fails to provide 24-hour security at all schools on the island no later than Monday.

The union said that teachers have been more than accommodating in giving the government ample opportunities to deal with the “reign of terror that is being imposed on us by vandals.

“We will be taking affirmative action if the appropriate interventions are not instituted immediately. According to our records, the period of September 5, 2022 to September 28, 2022, is marred with seven incidents of burglary and vandalism at both primary and secondary institutions,” the letter said

The ABUT said when these incidents occurred, teachers and even students are left with varying levels of frustration, anxiety, a decrease in morale, and loss of contact time while the perpetrators become increasingly emboldened to continue their onslaught on the country's educational institution.

“Although the incidents of vandalism and larceny are not novel to our nation's schools the frequency of break-ins dating back to the last academic year and the travesties associated with acts of vandalism, burning of schools administrative buildings…beckons for us to have more robust security measures instituted into our schools if we are to reduce the frequencies of these undesirable occurrences…However your response to this problem leaves much to be desired,” the letter added.

The union said that over 90 per cent of schools identified to receive 24 hours security are still waiting  despite being given the assurance both verbally and in writing that 24 hours security will be instituted by September 15, 2022.

But Matthew said the government has always sought to ensure that there is security for all schools on the island and that teachers can carry out their tasks “in a safe and wholesome way.

“We are concerned by limitations, one of those being cash resources, “he said, noting that the government spends in excess of EC$14 million (One EC dollar=US$0.37 cents) a year on security 'and we are now being asked to spend double that to provide security.

“It is an extra burden on the tax payers of this country that really ought not to be there,” the Education Minister said, noting members of the population should assume some responsibility for the ongoing security situation at the schools.

“I am sure you would have heard the Prime Minister on his programme …offer a reward to anyone who provides information into the arrest of anyone who is breaking into and vandalising the schools and I hope we catch some because we need to make an example out of someone.

“It is our children we are talking about and the entire country should be outraged that there are persons committing these crimes at our schools…because it is our children who are being affected and our tax payers money that's being spent,” the Education Minister said.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Browne, who has also described the teacher's request as unreasonable, is urging them against taking industrial action on Tuesday.

“The letter was delivered after the close of business on Friday. The next business say is the 3th and they are saying they will take industrial action on the 4th…They have been critical of the government but at no point have they released a statement condemning the dastardly acts at which our schools have been vandalized, burnt, or burglarized, Prime Minister Browne said on his weekend radio programme.

He said he believes that based on the frequency of these break-ins are orchestrated and politically motivated.

“Don't think that they are happening sporadically as in the past. These are now organized break-ins and I do not doubt that they are politically motivated. It is the same playbook dating back to 1968 when members of the PLM burnt down schools,” Browne said, adding that political spin-doctors are attempting to use teachers to provoke industrial action.

“Many of you teachers are innocent and are too young to know what transpired in the late 60s and 70s. Do not allow these politically motivated teachers to lead you up a gum tree…teachers shouldn't allow those who have their political axe to grind to intimidate them,” Browne said, adding that the ABTU has already been  informed that providing 24 hours security in schools is too costly for the state at this time.

“We cannot afford it. We are spending about 15 million just providing security during the day. What we have said to them is that we will do is put security cameras in the schools, we said we will buy vaults to secure their valuables. We got Parcel Security to ensure security throughout the day so teachers and students are secured,” Browne added.

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