It’s election time for the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers Union (SVGTU). On February 17 and 18, 2016, members of the union will vote for a new executive. I continue to urge all members of the union to vote. But, before you do, you must thoroughly assess the candidates. In this article, I share my views on the two gentlemen vying for the position of president, Bro Oswald Robinson and Bro Sheldon Govia.
I begin with current president, Bro Oswald Robinson. During the biennium, Bro Oswald made an effort to advance the cause of the union. However, he encountered several challenges. Among the most critical of these was the undermining and backbiting from key members of his team. There were times when he could have been more assertive in exercising his leadership. But, Robbie means well and once given the necessary support he will continue to serve the union well.
Among the issues that Robbie championed with zeal include:
- Staunch defense of the Collective Agreement, particularly Article 16;
- Fighting the government in court on the matter of the three teachers who were forced to resign their jobs despite the government’s agreement to grant election leave;
- Championing the cause of Otto Sam in and out of court challenging his illegal transfer and subsequent dismissal from the service;
- Forcing the government to agree to a salary increase after several years of a unilaterally imposed “wage freeze”;
- Demonstrating the fortitude to lead the union in industrial action despite the many obstacles.
- His stellar representation of the SVGTU in regional and international for such as meetings of the Caribbean Union of Teachers (CUT) and Education International (EI). He is highly respected in these bodies.
As the voice of teachers in the country, Bro Oswald has been a force to reckon with. Robbie does have his limitations as we all do. In this regard he is always prepared to listen and take advice if it becomes necessary. It is my considered view that Robbie is by far a much better choice than the other gentleman running for president.
Bro Sheldon Govia, the current first vice-president has chosen to run for president against the president with whom he has served. This fact in itself tells a story. I find this to be quite brazen of him given his record of poor performance and the blatant undermining of the National Executive. Govie’s main concern during his tenure was receiving the monthly stipend and travelling overseas.
Bro Sheldon disappointed many when it was determined that he actively worked against the union during the recent impasse with the government. He blatantly chose to go to work when the union called a strike. Further, it became clear that Govie and the others of his ilk were motivated by party politics as they disregarded the struggles of the union. In short, Govia is slow, inarticulate, incompetent, and untrustworthy! With him as president, the SVGTU would become the laughing stock of the country and the rest of the trade union world.
Watch and think carefully about whom you plan to vote for president. You have a choice between a zealous advocate for our union’s cause on one hand. On the other, there is one who has shown a willingness to sell out in times of crisis. It is either Robbie or Govie. You know where I stand! Put back Robbie!
Philbert “Peejohn” John
The office of general secretary (GS) is arguably the most critical on any union’s executive, especially that of the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers Union (SVGTU). This office is the centre of the union’s operations. Indeed, the functioning of the executive is only as effective as the general secretary is effective.
A non-performing GS is tantamount to a non-performing executive. Therefore, as members of the SVGTU go out to on February 17 and 18, 2016, I urge you to think carefully about whom you might chose to fill this position.
Jane Farrell, who “served” as assistant general secretary on the outgoing executive, is now running for GS. Whatever you do, DO NOT vote for Jane. Even if you are thinking about it, here are some points you may wish to consider.
- How effective was Jane as assistant general secretary over the past biennium?
- Does she possess the skills set required for the crucial role of GS?
- Why has she failed to produce the minutes for so many meetings of the union?
- Why did she absent herself from so many meetings of the union?
- Why did she actively undermine the National Executive during the recent conflict with the government?
This is a lady whose tenure is office as assistant general secretary has been marked by gross incompetence, negligence and dereliction of duties. This is a lady who refused to show solidarity with the union during a period of crisis. How can she now function as general secretary, the most critical office of the executive?
Colleagues, think about it!
Philbert “Peejohn” John
The St. Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers Union (SVGTU) will hold elections on February 17 and 18, 2016. These elections come at a crucial time in the development of our union. I urge all members to go out and vote. Exercise your franchise. Make sensible choices regarding whom you think would best serve the interests of the organization and its membership.
An official list of the candidates for each position has been published on social media- Facebook to be exact. This list presents quite an interesting mix of old and new faces. There are some who show bright promise; there are those whose record of past performance suggests that they should be returned. And, of course, there are those whom should be totally rejected and disregarded for their dismal performance and painful betrayal during the past biennium!
I urge my colleagues to seek information. Do NOT fall for the attractive posters that are currently making the rounds as the campaign heats up.Thoroughly assess each candidate and choose carefully. Consider a blend of past performance and future promise. Soundly reject those who are merely engaged in the pursuance of personal ambition; vote against the few who have already demonstrated a willingness to put their party loyalty above the union’s agenda. We must severely punish those who have blatantly betray the cause of the union.
The future of the SVGTU is in our hands. Go out and vote. Choose wisely!
According to news reports, four members of the executive body of the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers’ Union (SVGTU) reported for work on October 13, 2015, the day that the union called its members out for strike action. Not only did they break the strike, it is reported that some of them were behind the scenes lobbying rank and file members to disregard the call of the union. In industrial relations, this is an unpardonable sin. These persons, to whom I refer as the despicable four, should now do the decent thing and resign from their respective posts immediately.
It was with grave sadness that I learnt that Sis Jane Farrell, Sis Margaret Jackson, Bro Sheldon Govia and Bro Maxford Jones boldly ignored the union’s call to withdraw their services. Instead, they showed up for work. Even more disconcerting was the charge that they were allegedly involved in lobbying other members to do likewise. And, to make matters even worse, it is claimed that among them is a direct line to the prime minister who is briefed on every move contemplated by the executive. Like I said, it is alleged!
In October of 1999, the Teachers Union called a strike. And, I Philbert John, a.k.a Peejohn as PRO of the SVGTU then, chose to show up to work instead. I was unceremoniously ejected from the executive within hours! I then had the gall to show up to a subsequent general meeting where I was almost pilloried by a mob of angry members. Since that time, I have worked hard to restore some semblance of acceptability and credibility with the membership. To this day, I am still paying for that unpardonable sin.
In October of 2008, the union went on a ten day strike over unresolved issues connected to the recently concluded reclassification exercise. During that period, the then president Sis Joy Matthews was deemed to be less than enthusiastic about striking. At a hastily summoned emergency general meeting, the membership demanded her resignation with immediate effect. After all, they were dissatisfied with her lacklustre leadership during a period of crisis.
As a long standing member of the SVGTU; and as one who has borne the brunt of ejection and ostracism for my stupid act in 1999, I call on the despicable four to leave the executive immediately. I also urge all members to demand that they be removed forthwith!
These are four erstwhile decent people who may have perhaps let the promise of position and partisan patronage severely damage their integrity. The union can in NO way function with their kind in the leadership.
I say, resign NOW!
Philbert “Peejohn” John
On Friday November 14, 2014 the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers’ Union staged its annual solidarity march and rally. From all reports, the gathering of teachers appeared to be bigger than it was in a few years. In fact, several of the teachers who showed up were doing so for the very first time.
Some persons have openly expressed surprise at the growing number of teachers who chose to actively participate in the events this year. Then, there was the big question: Why are teachers still marching? Some have asserted that the teachers of this country never had it so good. That may be so. But, does it also mean that conditions can not or must not be improved?
Traditionally, teachers have worked under generally difficult conditions. Low salaries; meagre benefits; and deplorable working environments have generally marked the lot of teachers in this country. To be sure, there have been improvements over the years. However, the gains made did not come without struggle. Indeed, the protracted teachers’ strike of 1975 that led to the brutal reprisals from the authorities in the form of the arrests, trials, and dismissals of a number of teachers is still commemorated as a significant point in this never ending struggle.
After nearly forty years, there are still issues to be resolved. Even if we agree that “teachers never had it so good”, we must also accept that there is nothing for which we must continue to struggle?
Consider the following:
- the current unilaterally imposed salary freeze
- the failure to engage the SVGTU in discussion and consultation on issues touching on terms and conditions of service
- the violation of the collective agreement with regard to the Article 16, Election Leave
- the failure to honour the said article leading to the forced resignation of three teachers who ran for office;
- the plight of brother Otto Sam and what his situation may mean for other teachers who may wish to add their voices to contentious national issues;
- the failure to appoint and promote some teachers in accordance with the rules of the civil service and traditional practices; and
- the general malaise afflicting trade unions stemming from efforts to smother them.
The teachers of this country must continue to march. As conditions continue to improve we should march in celebration. To the extent that policies and practices persist that adversely affect the teaching profession we should march in protest!
Long live the SVGTU!
This year’s Teachers’ Solidarity March and Rally was not without controversy; neither was it without drama.
When Burns Bonadie mounted the platform, presumably to bring a solidarity message behalf of his union, the crowd erupted in jeers, hisses and boos. A clearly agitated Bonadie still attempted to speak but he could not be heard among the raucous roars of the crowd.
This behaviour went on for a few minutes as the veteran trade unionist attempted to address scores of belligerent teachers and their well wishers in attendance. Then, Ronald Clarke, the acting president of the SVGTU, intervened. He appealed to the angry teachers to allow Bonadie to speak. Clarke’s intervention did little to help the situation. Teachers were in no moood to listen to Burns Bonadie. Nevertheless, he persisted.
Amidst the jeers from the crowd, Bonadie gave his message. He expressed solidarity with the Teachers’ Union and reminded the gathering of his own contribution to the struggle of teachers over the years. Bonadie also took the opportunity to outline his credentials as an advocate for workers’ rights across the region. As he concluded his brief address, the jeers and boos went up again.
Burns Bonadie is widely recognized as an outstanding labour leader in the region. He served for many years as the general secretary of the Caribbean Congress of Labour (CCL). Bonadie is now the principal adviser to the government on labour issues and heads the recently created Workers Institute of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
Some observers expressed the view that the treament meted out to the veteran trade unionist was unnecessary and embarrassing, especially for one who has done so much for the labour movement in St. Vincent and the Grenadines and across the Caribbean.