ALL THESE YEARS I have been labouring under the belief that slavery had been abolished in Barbados. Now I am not so sure, if I am to be guided by the legal opinion from the Solicitor General’s Office, which is reported to have said that marking School-Based Assessments (SBAs) forms part of the duties of a teacher.
During slavery, the master could and did lend out his slaves to work at other properties. Those slaves did so without pay and without the right to say no. I might be accused of being simplistic, but to my mind the legal opinion is saying that teachers can be hired by the Public Service Commission, and lent out to the Caribbean Examination Council (CXC), in circumstances where teachers do not have the right to say no and without pay to boot.
Teachers are appointed in accordance with Section 94 of the Constitution. Their terms and conditions of service can be found scattered among: the Education Act and its regulations; the Public Service Act; the General Orders for the Public Service; and the Public Service Regulations. Unless I have missed something, there is nothing in any of those documents that allows the Government to lend out teachers, without their consent, to CXC or anyone else.
The Barbados Secondary Teachers Union argues that marking SBAs is not part of the duties of a teacher, while the Ministry of Education is insisting that the teachers have been marking the SBAs all along, which constitute custom and practice and as a result, teachers are duty-bound to continue. In my view, the teachers have right on their side but they are not convincingly putting their case. On the other hand, the Ministry of Education, aided and abetted by the Solicitor General’s Chambers, is plainly wrong.
In accordance with their terms and conditions of service, teachers can be assigned to work at any Government school in Barbados, as we saw at the conclusion of the now infamous Alexandra School debacle of a few years ago. Further, they must perform any duty of a teacher as directed by their employer. But therein lies the problem, CXC is not a school in Barbados. It is an independent entity whose duty includes setting examinations and awarding certification based on those examinations.
It goes without saying that CXC must be responsible for marking those exams so that it can award its certification. SBAs are part of the examinations, and that being the case, it must mark its examination papers or put arrangements in place to do so. That is what the Barbados Secondary Teachers Union seems to be saying.
The Ministry of Education’s reliance on custom and practice simply does not make sense for one main reason. It can only reasonably insist if the duty of marking exams was a function of the ministry or one of the organisations under its control. CXC is not part of the teaching service; its functions therefore cannot form part of the duties of teachers in the Public Service of Barbados. It is an independent employer who has been getting away with not paying workers who perform tasks on its behalf for years.
On the other hand, the only saving grace for the Ministry of Education could be that it cannot allow CXC to pay teachers since none of them have ever gotten permission from the Service Commission to undertake other paid employment, as required by paragraph 19 of the Code of Conduct and Ethics. I must admit that it sounds farcical but, as far as I am aware, that is the only basis for refusing to pay teachers for their hard work.
My advice, even though unsolicited, would be that the Ministry of Education should stop being a bully and negotiate with the union; the BSTU should stick to its guns, mind you, I am only referring to this matter; and the Solicitor General’s Chambers need a refresher course in labour law.
Tell them slavery done.
Caswell Franklyn is the General Secretary of Unity Workers Union and a social commentator. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org