Bahamas Union of Teachers (BUT) Acting President Joan Knowles-Turnquest said yesterday that teachers at C.H. Reeves Junior High School have applied to take a strike vote over the “substandard” conditions at the school.
“Consequently, the BUT wishes to advise that upon the request of the members of C.H. Reeves Junior High School, a letter requesting a strike vote has been sent to the minister of labor requesting the same,” Turnquest said.
“The Bahamas Union of Teachers stands in solidarity with its members in addressing conditions of unhealthy and unsafe working environment and requests that the Ministry of Education seek to address the malfunctions that exist at the school and look amicable at rescinding the show cause letters, as the teachers are bombarded daily with adverse, unsafe and unhealthy working environment conditions.”
The teachers have raised concern with mold and water leakages in classrooms; termite and rat infestations; and non-functioning bathrooms, among other issues.
Director of Labour John Pinder confirmed that the union applied to take a strike vote last week but said it had to reapply on Monday because the initial application was filed incorrectly.
In response to the BUT, Minister of Education Jeffrey Lloyd said yesterday, “Every issue complained about by the teachers [has] been or [is] being aggressively addressed. Every single one.”
He said the issue of mold has been “very satisfactorily addressed”.
“The public analyst of the Department of Environmental Health in its report confirmed that the environment at C.H. Reeves is safe for human habitation,” he said.
Earlier this month, Lloyd said Anthony Ryan of the Environmental Monitoring and Risk Assessment Division at the Department of Environmental Health conducted an assessment of the school.
He said Ryan provided the Ministry of Education with an oral report which indicated that the school was suitable for occupancy.
But Turnquest maintains that the ministry has yet to address the union’s concerns.
She claims that the Ministry of Education promised to address the BUT’s concerns within three weeks “with the exception of the termite and rat infestation which will be addressed over the Christmas holiday”.
“However, in spite of the fact that this is the beginning of the third week and in spite of the fact that these teachers have operated in good faith, housing up to four classes in the hot auditorium, teaching in classrooms with little to no ventilation, enduring constant smoke inhalation from the burning wires emanating from the new building… to the regrowth of mold and stalactites on the ceilings, to the stoppage of work on the roof, to the closure of student restrooms, and enduring falling concrete as they walk from class to class, they have been presented with show cause letters to explain their initial decision to sit in and have these matters addressed,” Turnquest said.
She said that classes are also being held outside and under the school’s pavilion.
When asked whether teachers intended to take industrial action before exams started, Turnquest said, “For that, we will just have to wait and see”.
She said the 70 teachers at C.H. Reeves were the only ones considering going on strike over the conditions.
But Turnquest said other teachers are open to taking action as well.
“We do know that a number of schools in the Commonwealth of The Bahamas have been condemned but teachers are still teaching in those unhealthy [and] unsafe environments,” she said.
“They can [take action] if they desire.”