Something for teachers to reflect on
As teachers locked in wage negotiations stay home for "rest and reflection", the Joint Trade Union Movement, with no sense of irony, called on parents to stay home with their children whom they described as "the future of the nation".
No one is saying that teachers should not fight for what they believe are just benefits but such a future, where teachers abandon children as a negotiating tactic, hardly bodes well for Trinidad and Tobago.
Admittedly, a worse start for the new school term could hardly be imagined. Defective physical infrastructure has caused closure and protests. The teachers, led by the Trinidad and Tobago Unified Teachers Association (TTUTA), appear more keen about striking and taking a long weekend than about educating their charges. While the Education Facilities Company Ltd, late as always, scrambles to make schoolrooms user-friendly; children, parents and teachers are taking to the streets to voice unhappiness about infrastructural issues in the schools.
But TTUTA's apparent readiness to use children as hostages in their negotiations has to be condemned. That TTUTA and other trade unions so easily resort to downing tools as a bargaining tactic reveals nothing more than their failure to innovate and adapt to 21st century work requirements. Indeed, the very phrase "down tools" harks back to the start of trade unionism in factory settings, where strikes by workers were an effective tactic because the shutdown of the factory meant measurable losses for the owners.
But that doesn't apply to a teachers' union. This action by TTUTA is based on political strategising, where the union's leaders hope that putting pressure on the government will force the politicians to instruct the Chief Personnel Officer to accede to the union's demands. This is a far cry from negotiating with facts and figures to prove that TTUTA's demands are reasonable, which is the strategy skilled trade unionists bring to the bargaining table, even in tandem with subtler political threats.
It is noteworthy that Labour Minister Errol McLeod, a former trade union firebrand himself, expressed the hope that teachers would "find more effective ways to resolve their issues other than one that will disrupt children's education". Why should these children, already victimised by inadequate infrastructure and poor pedagogy, be further abused by the unwillingness of teachers to do the work they are paid to do?
Teachers cannot behave as though they are typical "working class" employees when wage negotiations come up. It is bad enough for Petrotrin to lose millions of dollars because of unnecessary two-day industrial action by the Oilfields Workers Trade Union last week. But it is worse for children to lose two days of school because their teachers are putting their pay before their students' well-being.
Perhaps the striking teachers, fresh from the two-month-long school vacation, should use their long weekend holiday to reflect on that.