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Dunkley defers teachers to negotiators

No meeting: Michael Dunkley refused union request

Michael Dunkley has turned down a request to meet with the Bermuda Union of Teachers to address a breakdown in negotiations over conditions.

The BUT requested a meeting with the Premier after voting in favour of a motion to work to rule last week, claiming the Ministry of Education had gone back on its word.

Government has responded by asking the union to “return to the negotiating table” with the Public Service Negotiating Team, which was set up as a mediator between the two parties.

According to BUT president Shannon James, an agreement had been made on March 21 with the ministry, via the PSNT, that primary level deputy principals would be relieved of teaching duties, while a deal was also reached over the definition of scale posts — specialised subjects that certain teachers focus on in addition to regular teaching duties.

This agreement was made before the announcement that Parliament would be dissolved.

Once the election call had been made, the BUT and PSNT agreed negotiations should be suspended until the next government was elected.

Mr James then asked the PSNT to get the agreement over deputies and scale posts put into writing.

However, he said after the PSNT made the request, the ministry backtracked on the deal, writing a letter saying that while it agreed “philosophically” that a review needed to be done at primary level, it was “not their position to comment on staffing levels”.

Mr James said that government had also gone back on its word in regards to scale posts and maintains the dissolution of Parliament should make no difference to the deal.

In a letter addressed to BUT general secretary Mike Charles on June 23, the Premier noted the PSNT had been set up and “comprised of three experienced and respected individuals from the private sector who are each well versed in labour relations”.

He continued: “It would be inappropriate for us to agree to meet with the BUT on matters pertaining to contract negotiations. Any clarification of responses given by the PSNT should be obtained from the PSNT through the normal course of negotiations. Should the PSNT need clarification on its mandate, they will seek and obtain it from the Government. I, therefore, encourage the BUT to return to the negotiating table so that the negotiations can be concluded with urgency.”

When approached by The Royal Gazette, chairman of the PSNT Gary Phillips told us it would be “inappropriate” for him to comment on negotiations.

Mr James said: “We are always willing to meet but how can we meet if they say one thing, leave the table and act like it wasn’t said. The basic premise of negotiations is that your word is your bond.

“We agreed the PSNT didn’t know what their future would be because if the government loses, the chances are they wouldn’t be around, so we agreed that due to the political uncertainty we would suspend negotiations — we just want some light to be shed on the situation. Either somebody hasn’t been updating somebody or they have been updated and are trying to create a whole new spin.”

In a statement this afternoon Cole Simons, Minister of Education, defended the government’s record on education spending.

And in a letter to Mr Charles, released to the public by Mr Dunkley, the premier said that work improving the schools is ongoing.

“Mr Charles, as you will recall, the SCORE report highlighted many issues with the infrastructure of our primary schools — longstanding issues that need attention. Minister Simons has provided updates of progress to date.

The Ministry of Education identified similar issues in our Middle Schools. We have addressed the ageing school infrastructure, but our work in this regard is temporary. We have identified a longer-term solution.

“As the newly elected government in 2012, we had many pressing issues to address. Since then, we’ve made significant progress. Jobs are being created, the economy has been stabilised and the America’s Cup was a success that will help us continue the dynamic revival of Bermuda Tourism.

“Addressing the infrastructure of our primary and middle schools is a priority. Our children, their future and a first-class education are what we all want and it is vital that we work together to achieve that. We have been doing our homework and have preliminary plans to repair or rebuild the entire infrastructure without the cost overruns of the past and without tying up the public purse.

“We have a workable solution and we hope we have your support as we bring these plans to the public for open consultation as we discuss the way forward.”