Witu: Dismissal procedure should include teacher protection

POSTED: 07/19/13 11:59 AM

St. Maarten – The Windward Islands Teachers Union (Witu) wants the dismissal procedure law to be revised to reflect protection for teachers from independent termination. Union president Claire Elshot on Tuesday said that although country St. Maarten is three years old, it still has a lot to learn in labor standards.

“We are working with a very outdated part of the dismissal law and that is the part where it says that teachers, clergymen and statesmen are exempted from the dismissal procedure of the labor law.”
This means that if a school board, principal or public education services were desirous of dismissing a teacher, no permission would be needed from the Department of Labor Affairs.
Sacked employees who do not agree with the conditions under which their working agreement was terminated are free to approach the courts to challenge the decision. However in the union’s experience this is a cumbersome and often costly process.  It is for this reason that the union is advocating that social justice be meted out to teachers, and clergymen and statements as well, in having the Labor Department review their dismissal requests.
“Sometimes teachers have to spend an entire year out of the school system as they await a decision from the court. That is why we always try to advocate out of court settlements.”
Elshot explained that one teacher is now in a similar position but her case extends beyond just the dismissal procedure to include occupational health and safety infractions.
“The room in which this teacher was teaching was not conducive to her health. This room should have been air-conditioned according to the recommendation. Everyone at the school knows that it is a real heat box, from management straight down. Yet the letters went in and the school board did not fix this problem. To get a room air conditioned takes less than a week or sometimes even a day. However at the end of the day, measures are taken against the teacher and you have a teacher now that has been terminated based on what actually was an occupational health and safety hazard all along and created a number of health challenges for the teacher during the school year.”
“Is this a solution of terminating the teacher versus putting things in place to make the environment healthier and more workable?” Elshot asked as she indicated that the union is contesting the dismissal decision and will be bringing the matter to the relevant authorities for her to be reinstated.
She said that if an environment poses health risk, it will not only affect the teacher but her students as well.
She added “the fact that you have laws that do not actually protect the teacher, therefore you will have the union stepping up. But if we can get changes in the law where that protection would happen then you would also have a clear indication via our Labor Office on these different violations and it can also be recorded and remedied via our Labor Office,” the union leader stated.

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