In limbo

Teachers distraught after approval for early retirement reversed

BY SHANAE STEWART
Observer staff reporter
stewarts@jamaicaobserver.com

Monday, July 22, 2019

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AFTER applying and being approved for early retirement, one teacher is distraught, as approximately seven months out of the classroom, she discovered that the decision had been reversed.

The teacher, who is 56 years old, applied for early retirement through the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information and received an acceptance letter early last year. In the letter, she was thanked for her service and given the date on which her retirement would take effect.

However, she is now hearing a different story after going to make inquiries as to why she had received no payments after approximately seven months.

“Some teachers from different schools, me being one of them, applied for early retirement in 2017 and got the approval letter to proceed, from the Ministry of Education.

“[The process is] first you would go on [vacation] leave, after which the retirement period would begin,” said the teacher, who spoke to the Jamaica Observer but requested anonymity.

“Months into the retirement period, we (several teachers) learnt that the Ministry of Finance is refusing to pay out pension benefits, as the law changed in regards to early retirement. However, we had already received approval.

“My documents were processed by the Ministry of Education and were sent to the Ministry of Finance. The finance ministry was able to tell me my payout amount and even give me the banking documents to complete.

“After a while, they wrote to the permanent secretary at ministry of education saying I cannot be paid, and it was when I went to check on my documents I learnt of the situation,” the teacher said. “I was not informed prior. My [vacation] leave started in September of 2018, ended mid-January, and since then, no pay.”

The teacher also stated that there has been no written communication to explain what will happen in regards to the months that have gone by without compensation.

“The new law was passed after we got the approval letter, and the finance ministry is using the new Pension Act against us, even though [the] education [ministry] gave us the go-ahead.

“That's not fair to us since we were given the go-ahead before the new law came in,” the teacher said.

The Pensions (Public Service) Act 2017 came into effect on April 1, 2018.

The implementation of the Act meant that the normal retirement age for new public officers, those whose permanent appointment to office is after the effective date of the Act, is 65. While public servants who were appointed before that effective date, who were 54 years old and younger on April 1, 2018, will have a normal retirement age of 65 years.

Also, according to the Act, in relation to early retirement, existing public officers will have to wait until getting to 60 years old before they can apply, instead of between 50 and 54 as obtained previously.

Another teacher who was also granted approval for early retirement has found herself in the same predicament based on conflicting actions between the ministries of education and finance.

The Jamaica Observer obtained a copy of the acceptance letter the teachers received from the Ministry of Education and it reads: “I acknowledge receipt of your letter. Approval has been granted for you to proceed on your earned vacation leave prior to retirement.

“On behalf of this ministry, I use this opportunity to thank you for your distinguished service to the teaching profession and consequently, the development of the country's youth.”

The letter also stated the start date for the retirement period.

“I applied for early retirement in 2018 as I would be 55 in the second half of the year, and it is advised that you apply one year before the age of 55 so that the process can begin.

“I got a reply from the Ministry of Education, sending me on earned vacation leave after getting to the age of 55, then retirement starting in 2019. I went to the ministry after the date my retirement started to do paperwork and was told that the process had been stopped because the new law, [and] that they were not aware of when they sent us off, came into effect before I became 55, and the Ministry of Finance is not going to complete the process,” the second teacher said.

“I see the letter as a contract which has been broken, as the ministry wants us to go back to work based on discussion with finance [ministry]. This is not fair to us as we followed the process and it was not our fault that certain things were not known to them.

“This has affected me psychologically and physically. A lot of things have passed through my head since the time I realised the process has stopped,” the second teacher said.

A representative that works in the Retirement Department at the Ministry of Education told the Observer that he was not sure why the Ministry of Finance had decided not pay out the amount that was agreed upon to the 'retirees'.

He said that what the education ministry says should stand, and showed the Jamaica Observer a document which indicated that the teachers were eligible for early retirement.


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