Five Early Childhood Care and Education teachers, with a combined service to Tobago of more than 80 years, have been fired from the Division of Education, Innovation and Energy, headed by Chief Secretary Kelvin Charles.
Two educators were fired at the end of the last term and three just last Monday.
With the support of the Early Childhood Teachers’ Trade Union (ECCETU), the matter is now before the Industrial Relations Court and the Ministry of Labour.
According to documents obtained by Tobago Today, the division’s actions stemmed from the teachers’ refusal to sign a contract dated April 3, 2017-April 2, 2018.
However, the teachers said they were given the contracts months after it had expired and claimed they were denied the chance to get a lawyer to review it.
The union’s Tobago representative, Iyanna Charles-Beard, said while the division’s refusal to allow teachers to get expert opinion affected all teachers, it was “disturbing to those over 60 years.”
“They were concerned as the contract said once teachers were over 60 they would not be reemployed,” Charles-Beard said.
She said the older teachers conveyed their views to the THA via a letter, arguing that as “permanent employees... they were entitled to a pension as they were nearing retirement.” They were sent home immediately.
The teachers were given one month’s salary and a termination letter by the division sincerely expressing its gratitude for their “years of commitment and service to the Tobago House of Assembly.”
The younger teachers were told that “in the circumstances,” the division “was left with no choice but to deem (their) employment status...terminated with immediate effect.”
They too were given one month’s pay and a letter stating the division was “grateful” for their services.
ECCETU president Jamiele Sydney said since the THA began firing teachers, the other teachers have signed the “illegal” contract.
“What this means is that after they have given years of service they now go home with one month’s pay, no gratuity and no pension,” he said.
“Once the teachers were fired earlier in the year, the division began writing threatening letters to the other employees and they soon caved in and most signed.”
Calling the THA’s actions “illegal,” Sydney pointed to a clause in the THA contract which stated that “the Industrial Relations Act Chapter 88:01 of the Laws of Trinidad and Tobago does not apply to this contract only on the grounds of the expiry of the term granted.”
Addressing the issue of the age limit outlined in the document, Sydney said the national policy document on early childhood care and education stated that “staff may only work ...from the age of 18 to 65.”
He said the “affected persons and their families are upset and this is not the end of the road.”
In an emailed response to the matter, Chief Secretary Charles said the THA will not engage in discussions on the two teachers who have taken the matter to the Industrial Court.
However, he noted that “the three ECCE teachers who refused to sign the contracts have been informed of the implications of their action, as they are not entitled to the payment of any gratuity in the absence of a contract.”
He said the Education Division is now discussing with the Ministry of Education the transfer of the ECCE from the Ministry of Education to the THA.
He said a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the ministry has been drafted and once it is approved by Cabinet, “the issues of the entitlement of the ECCE teachers to severance pay/pension will be addressed.”