P. John’s Response to Concerns Raised by a Retired Member of SVGTU
I take this opportunity to respond to “Concerned Retired Member” who shared some concerns about the SVG Teachers Union in an article published by The Vincentian on December 06, 2019 under the caption, “Sorry, I must leave”.
Like him/her, I have had some serious problems with the manner in which the SVGTU has been led over the past decade or so. The National Executive, the General Council and the General Membership are all aware of my concerns. I have articulated them at every opportunity and in every forum made available to me by my union. The records will show that, even if they are only in the form of “scrappy minutes and reports” as highlighted by Concerned Retired Member (CRM).
Among the several concerns that I have raised within recent times, is the collective attitude and activities of so-called members in the ilk of CRM. They form part of a backward cabal who seek only the advancement of their personal interests and desires using the union as their primary vehicle to do so. Imagine, therefore, my relief when CRM claims that for the sake of their health, they “must leave”! I say to them, “Thanks, but you must leave now!”
In their piece, CRM opens with an unjustified and unsupported swipe at the president and the rest of the executive. They suggest that somehow the president has her team under some kind of spell rendering them “afraid to speak up”. They further sleazily insinuate that the executive members are only in it for the stipend. The point about it is this, the current executive has been the most productive and successful in the past ten years. For those who, like CRM, are prepared to say otherwise bring your proof and come.
In paragraph 2, CRM poses five questions as follows:
- Are decisions made by the president outside of constituted meetings?
- Do the president and the general secretary want to have all the say, while the other executive members appear dumb?
- Have the original staff been relieved of their regular duties, to the point of frustration?
- Are major financial matters executed without the knowledge of the elected treasurer?
- Do executive members occupy local hotel rooms during regional conferences hosted in SVG, and the union has to foot the bill?
The simple answer to all of these questions is a resounding NO! There is a paper trail for every decision taken by the union. To the extent that CRM may have been successful in raising some doubts in members’ mind, I urge you to visit the office and scrutinize the reports and minutes. In fact, CRM is making some groundless accusations in the form of “questions”. Not only are the accusations groundless some are also libelous. No wonder the missive is published under the inane pseudonym “Concerned retired member”. They lack the gonads to declare their identity even as they appear to be on a quest to destroy the reputation of an organization for which they claim undying love.
The trend continues in the third paragraph, more lies, more innuendos. Contrary to what CRM asserts about the stewards, it is this executive that recently revived the Stewards Council; I am the past executive member “who failed to function”, that I am prepared to concede. However, I am also now one of several advisors working with the membership, at every level, to bring the union back from where leaders in the ilk of CRM were recently taking it.
In that same paragraph, CRM claims that “reports are presented to general meetings with no financial statements”. This is a patent lie! Pertinent financial data have been presented for every meeting that I have attended since this executive took office. There was an issue in the most recently held general meeting where the treasurer did not prepare the usual financial report. He had tendered his resignation a few weeks prior to the meeting. The executive in its wisdom commissioned the auditing firm KDLT to conduct a financial audit. That work was not complete in time for the meeting. So, in the interim the executive presented a summary of the financial status of the union pending the completion of the audit by KDLT.
The irony of this situation is this: The past treasurer is a retired member just like CRM. I have no doubt that they are in close and regular contact with each other. Perhaps, CRM should have consulted with him before penning his diatribe. In the meantime, like many others I await the outcome of the audit. As advisor, I make a call to have the report widely circulated.
I share CRM’s sentiments as expressed in the opening of paragraph 4 of their article. Like them, we are committed to paying our dues to ensure “the continuation of this noble organization”. Unfortunately, we part company when in the succeeding sentences, CRM continues with their groundless and outlandish claims. It seems to me that CRM is probably a long serving member of the union’s leadership with a questionable agenda. Thus, it is probably better for them to leave.
CRM’s missive comes to a dismal end in paragraph 5. They repeat their unwarranted attack on the current executive and inexplicably links their functioning to the state of CRM’s health. Apart from being confusing, the link is a tad unfair. They call for a drastic change! What the public should know is that since taking office the current executive has already implemented significant positive changes and more are underway as reflected in a menu of initiatives undertaken. This short list immediately comes to mind:
- Providing training for all leaders and potential leaders of the union including stewards;
- Reviving the 10 district branches that make up the organization
- Re-organizing and expanding the number of standing committees
- Reviving the once dormant General Council
- Recruiting highly qualified and professional staff in the areas of administration and industrial relations
- Assembling a committee to review and recommend changes to the union’s constitution
- Conducting the first comprehensive forensic financial audit of the union
- Devising new fiscal policies for the financial governance of the union
- Re-engaging the government in negotiations for a new collective agreement
- Modernising the membership cards and expanding the list of entities that provide discounted goods and services to members
- Negotiating a comprehensive insurance programme for teachers that covers life, health, home and vehicle with Beacon Insurance
- Establishing a broad based committee to manage the Union Critical Illness Fund
- Working with Public Service Union (PSU), and the Police Welfare Association (PWA) to devise an approach to the issue of pension reform;
- Hosting in August 2019, one of the most successful and well attended biennial conference of the Caribbean Union of Teachers (CUT)
- Hosting Branch Day as a day of family, fun and festivity;
- Establishing the Wall of Fame that recognises the contribution of past presidents
- Recognizing through an impressive award ceremony, the contribution of long standing retired members
- Convening the first ever All Committees Meeting of the SVGTU
- Improve markedly the public relations and communications programme of the SVGTU
- Successfully began the process of re-branding the SVGTU
Now, this is just a tiny snapshot of the trajectory of the SVGTU since this executive took office. People like CRM should be proud to be a part of it. I am pretty sure that truth be told, the current successes can also be attributed to the work and contribution of retired members. Unfortunately, for reasons unbeknownst to us, some of them have become “vain and bitter”. Thus, many of these changes and progressive initiatives have resulted in the discomfiture of CRM and their backward cabal. Their insipid piece is therefore a half-baked attempt to remain relevant.
CRM and all those they represent, all three of them, must leave! The new and emerging SVGTU will advance without you!
Philbert J. John
Teachers across the country vote today and tomorrow for a new executive body. I take this opportunity to endorse Wendy Bynoe for President.
I have known Wendy Bynoe for nearly 20 years. I lectured her at Teachers College, I was her tutor/adviser when she pursued her bachelor’s and masters degrees in education; I have worked with her as an officer of the Union and as a colleague in the Credit Union movement. I have also had the privilege to see her at work at regional conferences for both the Trade Union and the Credit Union.
Wendy is deeply concerned about the teaching profession and has demonstrated a keen and abiding interest in serving the profession. She is honest, forthright, articulate and profoundly knowledgeable of the extant issues affecting teachers. Her successful tenure as the PRO of our Union speaks volumes about her capacity to take SVGTU and indeed the CUT to another level.
Trade Union leadership is about representation and advocacy; it is about being prepared to sacrifice even some professional comforts and perks for the common good. Everything that I have witnessed about this young woman over the better part of two decades has convinced me that Wendy Bynoe is the right woman for job at this time. With her blend of shrewdness and charm, the educators of this country can rest assured that they have chosen an excellent leader!
Let’s go with Bynoe!
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