“Revolutionary” changes are needed in the island’s education system, according to the general secretary of the Bermuda Union of Teachers.
Mike Charles told a crowd at the 38th Annual Labour Day Banquet last night that the Government had allowed a “second-class” public education system to continue unchanged.
Mr Charles said: “A country that does not educate it’s people well will relegate its citizens to being second-class citizens in their own country.
“Our Government today is making the mistake, continuing out of habit a pattern of education that was built by design.
“This mistake, this lack of vision to revolutionise how we raise up our young people, raise them up to believe in their potential and their ability to lead this country, this mistake of refusing to modernise our schools and support our programmes, is allowing an age-old design of a second-class education system to continue.”
He added: “The population of Westgate is not by chance. It is by design.
“So for those of us here and everywhere, it is time for us to put our money, our time and all our energy to where our mouth is and make public education in Bermuda second to none.”
Mr Charles said that despite the success of labour governments at the polls throughout the Caribbean, unions in the region still find themselves going head-to-head with their governments.
He suggested that some elected officials may have the right intentions, but are not experienced being on the other side of the table during union negotiations.
Mr Charles said: “How many of our current elected officials have been active participants in any of the island’s trade unions? How many have experienced the trials of negotiations or the tensions in the room when a motion to strike comes forward.
“I make this comment not to suggest that the elected officials intentions are not well directed, but rather to highlight that their ability to connect, their ability to connect with genuine understanding will only be limited if they have never set on the other side.”
The veteran educator also took aim at the One Bermuda Alliance, who he said vilified unions when they sought to extend furlough days.
Mr Charles said: “We took the country on our backs, sacrificing our personal wages to stabilise the Government books.
“We collaborated. Even more so, we came with solutions, offering our sacrifice when the experts were out of ideas.
“Fast forward 18 months — 18 months of significant personal sacrifice — we helped the OBA government save face. We put billions of dollars back into Bermuda’s books and when the terms of agreement came to an end, we were vilified.
“Many of the people of Bermuda accused us of not co-operating for the good of all when in fact it was they who were not keeping their word.”
Mr Charles added that it was easy to feel bitter, but the island’s union members should instead feel pride that they were on the right side of history.
Despite the conflicts with governments, he said true collaboration is necessary to create better outcomes for everyone on the island.
Mr Charles said: “Collaboration is more than an empty trail of letters and e-mails that do nothing more than say ‘I told you so’.
“Collaboration is more than the empty meetings that pretend to gather input, only to push forward with the original plan.
“And collaboration is more than just giving lip service to find solutions only to have the same challenges persist month after month.”
He said unions around the world needed to support one another and to stand up when needed for the benefit of all, particularly in the face of a changing world.
Mr Charles said: “As unions, we find ourselves returning to the same challenges over and over and over again.
“Our watch must be vigilant so as not to lose the rights and privileges that we have secured.”
He added: “We have seen a rise in populism, a rise in racism, more abuse of power by politicians and the erosion of human rights.
“Governments are attempting to dismantle trade union rights and the influence over government decision making by big business decision making continues to grow.
“Grass roots democracy is being attacked. For many of our colleagues around the globe, these are difficult times indeed.”