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Hats off to the minister and TTUTA
It was a positive step, given T&T’s very delicate and complex industrial relations climate where exchanges between the parties can often be confrontational rather than conciliatory. The early convening of a meeting at a neutral location, where disagreements and misunderstandings were ironed out in an atmosphere that was described as cordial and amicable, indicates there was a high level of maturity and responsibility from both sides.
Congratulations to Education Minister Dr Tim Gopeesingh and officials of TTUTA for mending fences after what seemed to be a bitter row that could have escalated, or continued for months with possible ill effects on the entire education system. Good sense prevailed and the two sides met and swiftly sorted out their differences. They must be commended for focusing on what is important—the education system—and moving on, setting a good example for school children and the rest of the country.
It was a positive step, given T&T’s very delicate and complex industrial relations climate where exchanges between the parties can often be confrontational rather than conciliatory. The early convening of a meeting at a neutral location, where disagreements and misunderstandings were ironed out in an atmosphere that was described as cordial and amicable, indicates there was a high level of maturity and responsibility from both sides. This sets a very good example for dispute resolution that all other labour and employer representatives would do well to follow.
Things could have turned out very differently, since this situation erupted after a heated verbal exchange between Dr Gopeesingh and TTUTA’s second vice-president Orville Carrington during a tour of the Cunupia Secondary School on February 22. Mr Carrington voiced his displeasure at the minister for chastising teachers at the school for tardiness and absenteeism via the PA system. The entire unfortunate sequence of events was captured by print and electronic media covering the tour, making the matter an issue of national interest and debate within hours.
The situation escalated further just a few days later when, on instructions from the minister, Mr Carrington was banned from entering the ministry for a monthly statutory meeting.
It didn’t help that there was a further allegation that Mr Carrington had verbally abused a female staff member of the ministry. Fortunately for all concerned, the latter incident turned out to be a case of mistaken identity and Mr Carrington was exonerated.
It was only on December 18 last year that TTUTA and the Chief Personnel Officer (CPO) reached agreement on revised salaries and terms and conditions of employment for teachers. In the months leading up to that settlement, there had been disruptions of classes—days on which schools remained closed, or there was a high rate of absenteeism as teachers protested, or took time off to “rest and reflect.” Needless to say, this took a heavy toll, with students losing valuable teaching time.
Last week’s resolution of a potentially volatile dispute was therefore a positive step forward for both sides. Dr Gopeesingh and TTUTA were able to cut through the rancour and were able to identify and implement solutions. Hopefully, Fitun, Natuc, the OWTU and all the other labour entities that quickly jumped into the fray in solidarity with their TTUTA colleagues will be inspired by the way the two sides were able to build a rapport and explore options together for a peaceful settlement.
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