~Minister not aware of all issues raised by teachers. ~
PHILIPSBURG:--- Teachers of all public schools downed their tools for the past two days as they said that have been in meetings with their union representatives the Windward Islands Teachers Union during school hours.
In an interview with SMN News, the teachers said the Government of St. Maarten have disrespected them in many ways one being they were not paid their vacation allowances, and their salaries have not been indexed for a number of years. Teachers that were at the meeting Wednesday morning said some of them have been the same level for as much as 19 years and no adjustments were made to their salaries.
The teachers said that the matter has been raised with their union and also raised the matter with the government of St. Maarten, they said letters have been sent to the Minister of Education, Youths, Culture, and Sports and all they have been receiving are empty promises and excuses.
The teachers explained that the schools are in deplorable conditions since the passing of Hurricane Irma. Roofs are leaking, lack of school materials, and the lack of materials are only some of the issues affecting teachers.
The teachers explained that the increments that were deducted since the pandemic and their Cost of Living Adjustments would not be given back to them even though it was lifted.
The teachers said that they are owed vacation allowance and this year it is not being calculated for 2023. They said these matters have been discussed with the government of St. Maarten with the President of the WITU Stuart Johnson. They said they feel that the public school teachers are being treated like a stepchild that is not wanted.
They explained that there is a situation where St. Maarten Vocational Training School is understaffed while the teachers at the school are not trained for special education ( to occupy with students that have special needs). They said the school is not even designed for special education and there are no teaching materials.
Teachers that taught for the summer vacation were also not paid even though they were all promised payment for their services.
At the Council of Ministers, press briefings on Wednesday Minister of ECYS Rodolphe Samuel said that he as Minister does not know of all the issues being raised by the teachers and the WITU. Samuel said he finds the current strike to be unfortunate because he met with the WITU on January 20th, 2023. He said during that meeting he dealt with both letters sent by the WITU to him, one he said dealt with the amount of vacation days due to teachers per year. He said the WITU indicated that the government of St. Maarten is still using the laws of the Netherlands Antilles to determine the vacation days. He said the second letter that was sent to him dealt with COLA, increments, COVID-frozen increments, and vacation pay. The Minister said all of those matters are related to the government of the CCSU which he indicated to the President of the WITU Stuart Johnson. Samuel said he even asked the President of the WITU because of their request to have a meeting with multiple ministers a request will be sent to the Council of Ministers so that the meeting can be scheduled. He said he also asked the President of the WITU to present him with a list of concerns from each school which he hasn’t received to date.
Addressing the issue was Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs who said that as the Prime Minister, she was not given the opportunity to address the teachers on the issues they raised. She confirmed that a request has been sent for a meeting. Jacobs said she asked the WITU to put their meetings on hold until they can arrange a meeting with multiple ministers but that was not given. She also felt that before actions are taken all options should have been exhausted for dialogue. Jacobs said that the WITU did respond and say they were willing to meet. That meeting she said should take place sometime on Wednesday afternoon.
The Prime Minister made clear that all the cost-cutting measures have been lifted since December 2022. However, the cuts made from January 2020 to December 2022 are not reimbursable. She said that there seems to be a misunderstanding among the teachers because they are of the opinion that what was deducted during the pandemic will be returned to them. However, Jacobs explained that none of the deductions will be given back because the legislation was in place for that period of time.
Asked by SMN News if the dual role held by the President of the WITU Stuart Johnson as the President of the WITU and manager of Marie Genevieve De Weever School and the fact that Johnson is an active politician if any of this has any influence on the current situation.
The Minister said that the Ministry is aware of the dual role of the President of WITU and that has been looked into. He also said he doesn’t know if any politics are being played.