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Unions rally against education minister’s ban on official (with CNC3 video)
The rift between Education Minister Dr Tim Gopeesingh and the executive of the T&T Unified Teachers Association (TTUTA) worsened yesterday when the minister said he was not prepared to meet the representatives at the ministry at Alexandra Street, St Clair but at a “neutral”venue.
This was communicated by officials of the ministry during yesterday’s two-hour placard demonstration by TTUTA outside the ministry yesterday morning. The minister was said to be visiting schools in Laventille yesterday.
Gopeesingh issued the temporary ban on TTUTA second vice president Orville Carrington when he tried to enter the ministry last week for a scheduled meeting with the deputy permanent secretary and the union to discuss industrial relations matters.
The ban stemmed from a verbal clash between Gopeesingh and Carrington days earlier at the Cunupia Secondary School. Both Gopeesingh and TTUTA have called on the other party to apologise for the incident which took place in the full view of students.
TTUTA president Roustan Job, who led yesterday’s protest, was supported by the president of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions, CWU president Joseph Remy, OWTU president general Ancel Roget, president of the Banking, Insurance and General Workers Union Vincent Cabrera and National Trade Union Centre general secretary Michael Annisette.
Job said during a brief meeting with the permanent secretary during the protest, the union was told Gopeesingh was maintaining his position that he would not meet with the union at his office if Carrington was on its team.
Job said he was told Gopeesingh was willing to meet on “neutral ground” where he would be able to accommodate Carrington. He said the union was not accepting that position and would not meet with Gopeesingh on any neutral ground. “We are not going to go along with that at all. Let the issue be resolved right here in the Ministry of Education,” Job said.
He said TTUTA would continue to demand an apology from Gopeesingh and his withdrawal of the ban on Carrington. He said he was taking the matter to other countries and had already sent a letter to Education International, the world grouping of teachers’ unions, for it to condemn Gopeesingh’s action.
Carrington said the union was looking to refer the matter to the Industrial Court and was meeting with its attorneys to determine what additional legal measures it could pursue.
Cabrera said Gopeesingh was wrong and the Joint Trade Union Movement would intensify its protest against him.
Roget said the unions were not begging for an apology from Gopeesingh but demanding it.“We are demanding the (TTUTA) second vice president be allowed to enter the premises.”
He said the labour movement would engage in “serious mobilisation” to protest Gopeesingh’s ban, which was an act of disrespect against all workers and would not be allowed to prevail.
Roget said former labour leaders in the Cabinet had not spoken out against the development. Contacted yesterday Labour Minister Errol Mc Leod, a former OWTU president general said he was not officially informed of the ban and would not comment until then.
Annisette said the employer could not dictate to the union who should represent it at meetings between the two parties and called on the minister to withdraw his ban immediately. Remy said people were “willing to die” to ensure the rights of trade unions were not taken away by the PP Government. He also spoke out against moves to give soldiers the power of arrest. “We are heading down a dangerous, slippery slope and we are going to see turmoil in this society that we have never seen before,” he said.
He said workers would ensure that no minister in the future imposed a ban on any trade unionist in the discharge of his legitimate duties. “We have fought too hard for that and we are prepared to die to maintain that right. We, Port-of-Spain, are not going to surrender,” he said.
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