Veteran teacher fired by Calabar 10 years ago to get salary payments, pension benefits

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

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TEN years after she was dismissed by Calabar High School in St Andrew, much legal wrangling, and many letters, veteran educator Annette Peynado is finally to receive the money owed to her.

Peynado, in a recent visit to the Jamaica Observer's head office on Beechwood Avenue in Kingston 5, said she had reached the end of her tether, being forced to live off the benevolence of friends, family and sympathetic individuals since 2009, and questioned the snail's paced response of the school to her plight despite directives issued to the administration by the education ministry across successive administrations.

“It's lingering so long now that, in effect, I could die; maybe they wish I would die. I became pensionable at 60 years. They keep passing the buck. I don't understand why it's being tossed from person to person,” Peynado told the Observer while sharing the contents of several letters written by herself and others exchanged between the Ministry of Education and Calabar which had not resulted in any cash in her hands.

According to Peynado, who had been employed to Calabar as an English language and English literature teacher, she was dismissed by the school in 2009 following an altercation with a male co-worker in which she was accused of being the aggressor.

The now 63-year-old, who disputed what she said is the school's version of the incident, challenged the dismissal through the Teachers' Appeal Tribunal and also in court. The case was thrown out by the latter based on defects in the filing of the claim and the fact that the matter was statute-barred (could no longer be the subject of legal action because the time limit imposed by law had passed).

The education ministry, in correspondence with Calabar dated between 2015 and 2019 — copies of which were obtained by the Observer — repeatedly instructed that Peynado “be reinstated to her post at the school and that she be paid her salary from the date of dismissal to the date of reinstatement after which [she] will proceed on retirement”.

Furthermore, the school was asked in a 2017 letter to “submit the necessary information for the calculation of Ms Peynado's salary from the date she was dismissed to the date of her reinstatement and for the calculation of her pension as a matter of urgency”.

Peynado said following several queries and letters on her part she was told by Calabar that “all the documentation requested by the ministry had been submitted, including the information relating to the salaries owed”.

“Yet still, no cheque has been released. Now I am trying to get my money to settle myself, to pay off debts. I owe rent, I owe family and friends, I owe the lawyer,” the soft-spoken Peynado told the Observer, noting that over the years she has been “almost homeless” due to her financial plight.

An August 2019 letter addressed to the chairman of the high school from the Ministry of Education said, “We have been informed that the services of Ms Annette Peynado, teacher, were terminated due to an altercation with a co-worker. It has been noted that Ms Peynado, at the time of her dismissal, had only one month to retiring. The records reveal that Ms Peynado has served in the capacity as a teacher for over 30 years in the education system without any complaint being lodged against her prior to this incident. We have been advised that as a result of this action Ms Peynado is currently homeless.”

The document, which was signed by acting permanent secretary in the education ministry Dr Grace McLean and copied to several ministry officials, including minister with oversight responsibility Karl Samuda, concluded, “Based on the foregoing, my instructions to the board are that:

“Ms Peynado be reinstated with effect from the date that her services were terminated and all outstanding sums due to her from the date of her reinstatement be paid to her with immediate effect.

“Kindly note that Ms Peynado has already agreed that she will proceed on retirement as of the date of her reinstatement. This will allow her to become eligible for pension benefits. Upon the implementation of these instructions please submit to my office copies of the relevant documentation substantiating the reinstatement of Ms Peynado and payment made to her in this regard.”

A few weeks ago a government official familiar with the details of the case had indicated, in response to Observer queries, that Peynado's long wait may be drawing to a fruitul end.

“It is about to be resolved in her favour. We need to get her out of this predicament,” the source added, noting that given the drawn-out nature of the matter they were anxious to have closure.

When contacted, principal of Calabar, Albert Corcho, outlined in detail the school's stance on the matter which had preceded his time in office but declined to speak on record, opting for the matter to instead be resolved by the ministry.

On Monday, some three weeks since the Observer began querying Peynado's complaint, signs of the long-awaited break finally came.

Director of corporate communication in the ministry Colin Steer, in an e-mailed response to queries from the Observer some two weeks ago, said: “Consequent on discussions between the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information and the administration of Calabar High School, Mrs Annette Peynado was reinstated to the school's payroll, thus entitling her to receive pension benefits.”

Steer said, “The ministry will advance payments due to Mrs Peynado.” However, no timeline was provided.

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