Caribbean education unions’ young teacher training for a bright future for teachers and education

Education International has assisted a fruitful workshop for Southern Caribbean’s young teacher unionists to enable sustainable and strong education unions promoting quality education in the region.

The Caribbean Union of Teachers (CUT)/Education International (EI) youth leadership training workshop, held in Grenada from 21-23 June, and hosted by the Grenada Union of Teachers (GUT), gathered 25 enthusiastic young leaders, representing nine Education International member organisations from the Southern Caribbean; Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, St. Lucia, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago.

Enhancing youth leadership capacity

This workshop was supported by EI as part of a series of activities based on the resolution on young and early-stage teachers, researchers and support personnel adopted at the 2015 EI World Congress held in Ottawa, Canada.

Its main purpose was to continue developing skills of young teacher union leaders by enhancing their leadership abilities through education and integration within union structures.

All participants developed action plans for implementation within their respective unions. The CUT will monitor the implementation of these plans and be receiving progress reports from unions on their impact.

A number of sessions and presentations were held during this activity, on topics including: advocacy for human and trade union rights, the sustainable development goals, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) decent work agenda, the role and functioning of the CUT, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual people’s rights, Indigenous people’s rights, and gender equality issues. These information sessions included group work and intense discussions.

District Education Officer Meryl Baptiste Lord spoke on behalf of  Grenada’s Minister for Education and Human Resource Development Emalin Pierre. Lord argued that  union-government collaboration is vital to ensure efficiency and quality education, and noted that strong and welcome work ethics and professionalism can be found among teachers, including the young ones.

Implementing established trade union action plans for young leaders

Sharing his vision for trade unionism, CUT President Julian Monrose stressed the need for trade union survival and ensuring that workers are protected. He envisioned the creation of a second level leadership, where knowledge, skills and values are harnessed in trade union capacity-building structures.

He went on to challenge participants to be prepared to enhance their skills, and reminded that, while they engage in a three-year programme, they must fully implement their action plans before progressing to the next phase. “Trade union work is serious work, but investment made in it will undoubtedly be a rewarding one,” he concluded.

With his presentation on “Human Rights as Trade Union Rights”, GUT President Lydon Lewis explained all human rights should be seen as trade union rights.

Stating that “all work has dignity, and all workers deserve to be treated with respect by their employers,” and that “in essence, trade unions play a decisive role in improving working conditions, safety and wages,” he outlined the ILO human rights conventions protecting fundamental principles and rights at work: freedom of association and right to organise; prohibition of forced or compulsory labour; right to bargain collectively;  prohibition and immediate action for the elimination of the worst forms of child labour and an end to child labour; and equal remuneration for men and women workers for work of equal value.

Young teacher unionists ready to inform colleagues about their rights and increase education quality

Participants gave positive feedback on the workshop, felt much empowered and challenged to go back and bring change to their various unions, based on information gathered and discussions held at the workshop.

Tiffany Hinds from the Guyana Teachers’ Union (GTU) underlined that she was “motivated that there were organisations interested in offering training to young trade union members, ensuring the effective continuity of the trade union movement”.

Noting that participants learnt a large variety of facts and skills enabling them to be actively involved in GTU capacity building, she underlined that they articulated a long-term plan of visits to the Teachers’ Training College in Guyana, to encourage newly trained teachers to become members of the GTU and enlighten them on their rights and responsibilities. Guyana’s team is very appreciative of collaboration between EI and CUT on this successful introduction training for young leaders, she concluded.

“Firstly, I would like to congratulate EI and CUT on an incredible workshop,” Xiomara Cadogan from the Suriname Bond van Leraren (BvL) emphasised. “My motivation in taking part in this training is mainly because right now in Suriname we are in very troubled waters when it comes to trade union recognition. The teachers’ voice is getting lost and I want to help in making sure it is not lost completely,” she added.

Every aspect of this workshop is extremely  important for our country, she insisted, as trade union leaders are aging and people need to stand up and take over, otherwise “we are lost in Suriname when it comes to trade unions for teachers”.

She further mentioned that, with colleagues who also participated in the workshop, they have already planned ‘training of trainers’ workshops in different districts in their country, and they will be giving these workshops in the same way the EI/CUT one was constructed. The only obstacle we have, she acknowledged, is that the sessions were all in English, so we have to translate everything into Dutch, Suriname’s official language, which will require some extra preparation time.

“I wanted to know more about what I can do, as a young leader, for my trade union. I wanted to learn more about teachers’ rights, because in our country teachers only know their duties,” explained  Angoelal Bryan Akash, another young teacher unions from Suriname.As a result, he deplored, teachers’ rights are usually suppressed and teachers work for  low salaries.

I am going to inform trade union members of the trade union of their rights so they can stand up for their own interests, he highlighted: “I will train spirited teachers to convince teachers who are still sceptical or anxious that they are not slaves, but people with rights. They must know that human rights are the same as trade union rights.”

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