Senator Smith’s request was answered rather quickly because according to Minister of Education Francis Fonseca, a meeting with the joint unions has been proposed for December eight. Fonseca informed the media earlier today that the meeting was always on the table but came up after GOB met with the social partner’s committee yesterday. He also spoke about tomorrow’s meeting with the BNTU who are concerned over GOB’s vaccine mandate for public officers.
Francis Fonseca, Minister of Education: “One of the priorities for us and for me as the Minister of Education over the past year has been to try to improve and strengthen the relationship between the Ministry of Education and the BNTU. When I became the minister I found that the relationship had completely deteriorated and I think it’s critically important for us to have a good working relationship between the ministry and the national teachers union so we’ve worked very hard at that and tomorrow is another step in that process sitting at the table together and sharing our concerns on issues of mutual concern. Many months ago the union and the ministry sat down and talked about vaccinations and how we could work together and collaborate and I’ve been very pleased with the outcome of that collaboration. As you all I think know by now we have over 92% of our teachers fully vaccinated which is excellent and so the issue is just talking about those teachers, the challenges faced by those teachers who are not yet vaccinated for various reasons and how we can ensure that their rights are protected and at the same time that the ministry expects that those teachers will continue to do their jobs in a safe and responsible way. So it’s just a question of discussing those issues and making sure that all our teachers can be in the classroom come next year in a safe and responsible way. We’ve already agreed with the unions the position will remain the same which is that those teachers who are not vaccinated will have to continue producing every two weeks a test showing that they are negative so a negative test every two weeks if they have chosen not to get the vaccine.”
Reporter: And then switching subjects the government and you were present, met with members representing the social partners but the joint unions are asking for a separate meeting to talk economics and finance. They say it’s time for us to get back that 10%, is that meeting going to happen ?
Francis Fonseca, Minister of Education: “Yes we have in fact proposed a meeting I think for December 8th with the ‘JUNT’ as we call them and that was always on the table of course so we had the meeting. As you know the social partnership committee arose out of our consultations with the unions, that was one of the undertakings given by the government back many months ago to establish this social partners committee which would review the public finances on a biannual basis. So yesterday you’re right we had our first inaugural meeting of that social partnership committee. Very productive meeting, very positive. We agreed on the terms of reference of the committee and we set out the process of establishing subcommittees which would look at specific areas; revenue enhancement, tax reform, and those types of things. So I think we expect a lot to come out of that partnership and as you rightly said we are agreeing to a separate meeting with the joint unions to discuss some of the issues we were engaged on during the consultation process. In terms of the question you asked about the 10% yes that is an absolute commitment of the government and again when we meet with the joint union, I don’t want to get ahead of that discussion, but we will discuss that issue of how can we put on the table a clear plan to return that 10% to our public officers and teachers.”