BUT slams decision to dock teachers’ pay
The head of the island's teachers union has slammed a decision to dock the wages of teachers who took industrial action in February.
Nishanthi Bailey, the president of the Bermuda Union of Teachers, said that she had “no other option than to withdraw my support and collaboration with the Ministry and Department of Education moving forward until the decision to deduct any salaries ... is retracted”.
She added: “This stance is bigger than fighting for salaries to be kept whole, but rather a cause of advocacy for educators to be regarded and appreciated for the fruit that is cropped from our underappreciated labour.”
She was speaking in a letter to Kalmar Richards, the Commissioner of Education, sent on Tuesday.
Ms Richards earlier told Ms Bailey that teachers at four public schools were to be docked wages for industrial action during the week that started on February 17.
She said the action by staff at Dellwood Middle School and Elliot, Northlands and Victor Scott primary schools “caused teaching, learning and services to cease and, in the case of one school, a school was closed”.
Ms Richards added: “The actions of staff on those days also created safety risks for our students.”
She advised Ms Bailey that deductions would be made from the pay packets of staff at the four schools.
However, Ms Richards said: “Given the current situation facing the island and our staff as it relates to the Covid-19 pandemic, a decision was made to delay the deductions.”
She added the decision “took into consideration the current situation and communicates that we are prepared to operate in good faith”.
Ms Richards said that Dellwood staff would have deductions “spread over July and August” and staff at Elliot, Northlands and Victor Scott would have deductions made in July.
She added that employees due to end their service in the public school system would have June deductions.
Ms Richards said the DoE believed that pupils should not be hit by “grievances and disputes ... at any time and on any day that has been allocated for teaching, learning and services”.
She added: “The department does not support any action which is opposed to this guiding principle.
“Additionally, the department also operates under the government policy that when there is no work, there is no pay.”
Ms Bailey said the decision was “disheartening at best”.
She wrote: “While it can be appreciated that the department expects all employees to operate with the understanding that schools exist for children, it too fails to provide the basic necessities to ensure that teaching, learning and services are executed and provided equitably in alignment with the expectations of its staff.
“If teachers operated solely with the resources, time and services the DoE provides, the quality of all students' learning would be adversely impacted on a daily basis.”
Ms Bailey asked Ms Richards to imagine what would happen if teachers “adopted and functioned under that same principle whereby according to the Education Act, they worked with the supplies provided by the DoE”.
She said: “It would be a sad day for public education, and again, students' learning will feel the brunt of this lack.
“If our public-school educators held the DoE accountable for every breached binding article within our collective bargaining agreement, the Education Act, and the Employees Act, there would be no work taking place.”
Ms Bailey added that staff at the schools had organised pupil supervision before the industrial action in February, and that the industrial action was “conducted with thoughtful consideration of our students at the forefront — especially when those actions are in advocacy for them”.
She said: “To assume otherwise is insulting to the core of our morale and ultimate rationale for why most of us became educators in the first instance.”
Ms Bailey said that the decision to dock pay from staff at the four schools lacked “thought, appreciation and consideration to a grandiose scope of the lens”.
She added that the action was an “unwarranted and unnecessary distraction” in the middle of the Covid-19 crisis.
Ms Bailey said: “I am disturbed that as a union we're having to utilise our efforts to address this at such an inconvenient and untimely moment in history.
“During this challenging time, where families are experiencing first-hand the work of a teacher, and as a result teachers around the world are enjoying a long overdue celebration of appreciation for the essence of our work, our employers present this kind of low blow to deflate the efforts of educators as they do their part to ensure students continue to receive an education.”
She added that a retraction of the salary deductions would show that the DoE “values and respects the work and transcending efforts of its staff, not just for what they are personally contributing to keep education afloat during this global crisis, but on a day-to-day basis”.