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Wednesday 17 October 2018
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Commentary

On being wrong and strong

TTUTA

IT IS RATHER unfortunate that the teachers of the Longdenville Presbyterian School had to endure the mental anguish of having been placed on disciplinary charges by the Teaching Service Commission when they chose to stand up for rights guaranteed to them as workers under the law.

The action of the Ministry of Education was clearly a case of victimisation and intimidation for a group of people who endured appalling working conditions for years, complying and complaining.

When they felt that they could not continue to discharge their duties to their charges in circumstances that posed severe threats to their health and safety, including that of their children, the teachers were taken to task in a most callous and high-handed manner.

Through the intervention of TTUTA, who in defence of the teachers challenged the disciplinary action precipitated by the Ministry of Education and the Teaching Service Commission based on the provisions of the Occupational Health and Safety Act, these teachers were exonerated after the disciplinary proceedings were recently withdrawn.

However, the mental anguish and pain suffered by the teachers over the past seven years cannot be easily erased. They were ridiculed by senior officials of the ministry who held them out as examples that colleagues should not emulate. They were denied promotion, increments and opportunities for further professional development courtesy of the employer.

Now that the authorities have finally come to their senses and realised that they were abusing their power and authority in initiating disciplinary action against these teachers on flimsy grounds, how can these teachers be reasonably expected to give of their best and go beyond the call of duty?

All they demanded was a safe and secure teaching and learning environment and when the authorities, including the Board of Education, failed in their duty to provide such the teachers were left with no choice but to exercise their rights under the law, for which they were punished. Had TTUTA not stood up for these teachers, their rights would have been infringed with the authorities enjoying impunity to continue their modus operandi.

This case should serve as a stark reminder to all other teachers and workers of the need to stand up for their rights and be a member of their respective unions, for power can be easily abused by employers and worker rights easily trampled.

What is even more disconcerting is the absence of sanction for what was definitely dereliction of duty and malfeasance on the part of the authorities to ensure that the school was safe and secure and conducive to the provision of quality education.

Their failure to comply with the 2011 orders of the Occupational Safety and Health Authority to effect certain immediate improvements remains a source of concern to TTUTA, especially given the fact that this was not an isolated situation. This “wrong and strong” behaviour continues to characterise the Education Ministry, intimidating teachers to forgo their rights to function in safe and secure schools.

It is time that employers, and in particular the ministry, be held to account for its blatant disregard for the law when it comes to health and safety. Its failure to ensure that all schools are in compliance with the provisions of the Occupational Safety and Health Act carries no consequences.

People in high office continue to be guilty of dereliction of duty and instead of being held to account they are emboldened to threaten and intimidate employees when they decide to act in accordance with the provisions of the law.

TTUTA will continue to pursue its quest for equity, social justice, the rights of workers and adherence to the rule of law. Our agenda will not waver owing to pressures from ill-informed quarters of the society who arrogate powers to condemn and form conclusions without fact. Our teachers deserve to work in schools that are safe and secure and TTUTA will staunchly defend such right. Threats of intimidation and victimisation will not be tolerated from the authorities.

A grave injustice was perpetrated unto those teachers of the Longdenville Presbyterian School and they were made to pay an unfair price for their decision to stand up for their rights. Thankfully throughout the ordeal their spirits, dedication and commitment never faltered. They showed bravery and courage through insults, intimidation, ridicule and moments of sheer embarrassment. They were threatened to be used as an example. Who’s embarrassed now?

Fortunately, professional courtesy would dictate that the identities of the principal perpetrators of this injustice remain nameless. Justice has been served.

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