PHILIPSBURG–Education Minister Wycliffe Smith said on Wednesday that Windward Islands Teachers Union (WITU) President Claire Elshot was not invited to the meeting he had called with the union’s membership – teachers of the St. Maarten Vocational School (SMVS) recently to discuss their concerns.
Elshot had walked out of the meeting on the grounds that attempts were being made to silence the union after she was asked in what capacity she was present, and after being told by the Chief of Staff of Smith’s cabinet Peter Gittens, that she would not be allowed to speak at the meeting although she informed parties that she was the spokesperson of the workers.
Smith said in response to a question on the matter during the Council of Ministers press briefing on Wednesday, that public schools fall under the Ministry of Education and the minister is their employer, hence the teachers are his employees. Smith said as employer, he wanted to hear directly from the teachers what their concerns and grievances were at the school and in education. “The union was not invited to that meeting,” he said adding that the union was allowed to stay, but he informed Elshot that he wanted to hear directly from the teachers. Smith said Elshot was not removed from the meeting, “She decided to leave on her own when I said I wanted to speak and hear directly from the teachers themselves.”
Elshot said last week that she will not sit in a meeting where she will be silenced. She had said that as WITU President she was the one who brought up the issues of SMVTS teachers to the minister on two occasions and she was the one who requested to the minister in writing that he should meet with the teachers. She said the fact that teachers were not able to have their union present to speak on their behalf is a great infringement of the rights of the teachers “because teachers have the right, when meeting with their employer, to take legal representation – it can be a lawyer or their union or anyone who can assist them… What happened represents two grave infringements of the ILO [International Labour Organisation – Ed.] conventions – the right to association and the right to collective bargaining.”
Elshot had said also that while teachers were expecting to meet with the minister, “a whole entourage” of persons were at the meeting which was held at the Government Administration Building. At the meeting were Head of the Department of Education; persons from Human Resources; the Inspectorate of Education, members of the minister’s cabinet and the head of SMVTS. The union president said teachers were expecting the minister to give them a hearing similar to how he met with teachers of the Preparatory Secondary Vocational Education (PSVE) section of St. Maarten Academy and then met separately with the PSVE board and management.
Source: The Daily Herald https://www.thedailyherald.sx/islands/83362-smith-union-not-invited-to-meeting-with-smvts-teachers