August 13, 2004
Conflict resolution

This week the Vincentian public was surprised by a quarrel that broke between some of the major partners in the field of education here.
Surprising it was because many had long got the impression that all was well between the Ministry of Education and the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers Union. {{more}}Many thought that a minister of education, who himself was a former leader of the same union he now had to negotiate with, arriving at understanding between both sides would have been a relatively straightforward task. This, it appears, was more complicated than that.
We were told that the SVGTU was not satisfied with the march of progress on issues, and thus decided to make their disgust known by sending a low level delegation to a quarterly meeting that is usually convened with the Minister of Education and his senior ministerial officials. The Ministry of Education, in a release accused the SVGTU of “breach of the practice and protocol” and said that because of that “the meeting was not called to order.”
This prompted a stern response from the leadership of the Union, who summoned the media to a briefing, even as the nation’s parliamentarians were in the House debating the people’s business.
The very language used in the opening paragraph tells a story in itself. SVGTU President Otto Sam stated: “There are persons… who thought that as President I would just have SVGTU as an arm of the ULP.” The president’s statement gave as reasons for the press conference:
1. To express …concerns about the Ministry of Education’s tardiness and or refusal to implement decisions taken at quarterly and other meetings…
2. To protest the contempt shown to the SVGTU by the leadership of the Ministry
3. To address the continued exclusion of the SVGTU on issues affecting its membership and education and “to respond to comments made by the Minister.”
The Minister himself agrees there had been some legitimate concerns on the part of the Union but says that moves had been afoot to deal with them via the appropriate mechanisms.
When we review the strident language couched in the statement by the Teachers’ Union president, it does seem that the question of some or one of the recent appointments by the government is driving bad blood, though this is not being expressed clearly. Thus the President Otto Sam accuses the Government of adopting “an animal-farm approach relative to the appointment of senior persons” and continues that “it must always be perceived that our Government is a Government of equal opportunity.”
He continues that “appointment to any senior position in the public service must be seen as above board” lest “it demeans the office holder, places the person at a serious disadvantage.”
It does seem that the leadership of the SVGTU has misunderstood the right of an employer to make appointments as it deems most suitable.
We have listened to the arguments on both sides and find it rather disapointing that responsible educators seem not to have grasped the basic tenets of conflict resolution that we hope they would have had to impart to their students on a daily basis. We will always have differences of opinion on issues, but the manner and the tone of the language we adopt to resolve them is one element that goes a long way towards diffusing the tensions that may arise. Basic respect for each other is one of the most basic elements neccesary for successful conflict resolution and arriving at win-win solutions.
A most unnecessary storm in a teacup this one is.