Article (re)defined by AJ.
Caribbean teachers unions have called for the resignation of Dr. Virginia Albert-Poyette as General Secretary of the Caribbean Union of Teachers (CUT) because she accepted a position with Education International, thus breaching the CUT’s constitutional mandate regarding board members’ employment. In a December 2, 2015 article, St. Lucia News Online examines this story from their perspective.
Other articles from The Jamaica Gleaner, The Jamaica Teacher’s Association, and St. Lucia News Online contextualize teacher experiences in the Caribbean, and speak to the role that unions play in encouraging teacher activism in the face of government austerity.
Caribbean teachers in former European colonies tend to be highly unionized because public school teaching offers low wages and a relatively low status. Jamaican teachers must contend with salary freezes predicated on current IMF agreements, and although the IMF recently agreed to loosen financial restraints which would potentially provide “an opportunity to increase public spending on capital outlays that boost growth and job creation”, teachers’ salaries have continued to suffer. In response, Jamaican teachers, through union support, have employed various forms of activism in order to force a government response.
In addition, they—and teachers from other Caribbean countries—have unionized on a regional level through the Caribbean Union of Teachers (CUT), which serves educators from former French, British and Dutch colonies.
Because of the CUT’s explicit mission of promoting “the status, interest and welfare of teachers”, it is logical that board members within the organization would have a vested interest in teachers’ well being, specifically through their personal experience in the classroom. That said, a recent article from Saint Lucia News Online reveals potential bureaucratic issues within the organization which often render Caribbean teachers unions impotent in the face of inflexible government policy. According to the article, several local Caribbean teachers unions have called for the resignation of Dr. Virginia Albert-Poyotte, General Secretary of the CUT and a 30 year veteran teacher, because she recently resigned her job as an educator to assume a potentially influential position at Education International. Ironically, Education International works with and advocates for teachers’ unions internationally, including many of the same Caribbean organizations calling for Dr. Albert-Poyette’s resignation.
Members of the CUT have framed Dr. Albert-Poyette’s situation as one that undermines the organization’s constitution, and they question whether she tried to conceal her status in order to secure her position at the CUT. While there is no question about the importance of honoring such an organization’s statutes, one wonders whether there might be an opportunity for greater international support and advocacy for Caribbean teachers through Albert-Poyette’s new role; and because the article is told from the perspective of the unions that want to remove her, there is no discussion about the potential merits of her continuing in both roles, and we never get to hear her “side”.
As it stands, teachers rights remain marginal in many Caribbean countries, not just Jamaica. A few months ago, the CUT pioneered an effort to improve teacher salary and working conditions through region-wide industrial action. Teachers planned to withhold SBA (school based assessment) grades necessary for completion of regional exams, until their demands were met. This effort, while bold, did not create lasting positive changes for teachers, who—as referenced earlier—continue to struggle for decent working conditions and fair wages.
My question, therefore, is whether doggedly sticking to the organization’s rules and regulations might rule out an opportunity for greater international visibility through the person of Virginia Albert-Poyotte, who has, for the past 30 years, been invested in and committed to education in the Caribbean; particularly when those rules can be amended.