Schools shut

Teachers report sick; protest against wage offer expected to continue today

Observer staff reporter

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

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MANY parents and students who were yesterday forced to return home extra early after hundreds of teachers islandwide went on a sick-out, say they are in support of the industrial action by the teachers as they deserve better pay.

The teachers yesterday started what sources said is a three-day sick-out to protest against Government's wage offer of a 16 per cent increase over a four-year period.

It was not clear, however, how many of the 23,000 public school teachers participated in the first day of the sick-out, which is likely to worsen today.

Georgia Waugh Richards, president of the Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA) — the union which represents public school teachers — had hinted at a possible work stoppage last year December and again at a press briefing last Friday. However, attempts made to contact her to confirm whether the teachers' action was sanctioned by the JTA were unsuccessful and the association's communication officer, Leaon Nash, said he was unable to respond to the question.

The Ministry of Education, in a press release last evening, said there were mixed reactions to the industrial action as some schools had normal operations while in others schools there were no sessions.

The ministry said its contingency plans were rolled out and that additional support was provided to assist those schools that needed it. This included the deployment of personnel from the Caribbean Maritime University to 45 schools in Kingston and St Andrew to man the classes, as well personnel from Northern Caribbean University, who assisted in Manchester and St Elizabeth which had the greatest turnout of students.

Yesterday, when the Jamaica Observer visited several schools in the Corporate Area most of them were not in session and children were seen leaving or waiting to be picked up by their parents and guardians. In most cases, teachers had called in sick and those who reported for work did no teaching.

At Ardenne High School, Principal Nadine Molloy said a little more that 50 per cent of the school's teaching staff had turned up and that they remained in their respective classes until students who were waiting for pick were collected.

According to the principal, only one exam — an oral for six form students — was scheduled, but was postponed because enough students were not present.

Molloy who is a past president of the JTA, said: “I stand with the president and cause of the teachers.”

At Half-Way-Tree Primary, the story was similar.

Principal Carol O'Connor Clarke said 33 out of the 36 teachers had showed up for work but no teaching was being done.

However, she said that a decision was taken for the Grade Sic Achievement Test students to remain at school as classes for them would remain open this week, but would not be taught by teachers.

An advisory issued to students later said teachers would be off duty from March 12 - 14, unless there is further instruction from the JTA, and also that students from Grades 1-5 should remain home until further notice.

While students from several other schools, including Merl Grove High, Queen's, Meadowbrook High, Calabar and Jamaica College were seen returning home, students at St George's College had classes.

“We have 55 out of our 78 teachers, so even though we had a slight disruption in out first session, because students were uncertain about what was happening, we are having regular classes and the teachers are covering for those who are absent,” Principal Margaret Campbell said yesterday.

She emphasised that the classes were held because the teachers were prepared to teach. However, she said that she was not sure about what will happen today.

Nevertheless, she said, “I do understand the teachers' standpoint, and I do support them”.

The planned industrial action, meanwhile, caused unease for many parents who had sent their children to school but were forced to make alternative arrangements after several schools closed their doors early.

But, despite the inconvenience, some parents said they understood the teachers' plight and were in full support.

A policeman, Brain Watkiss, who was seen returning home with his daughter and a neighbour's child from Half-Way-Tree Primary, said: “We only sorry that we can't join them too, but people have to do what they have to do, and its their right.”

“If they want better wages they should strike,” said another parent who gave her name only as Joan.

Audrey Wilson, who was seen picking up her son from Jessie Ripoll Primary in Kingston said it had caused her a great deal of inconvenience, but she understood. She said she had been up from 4:30 am to prepare her son for school.

“Personally, I think the strike speaks volumes to Government because of what has transpired, but I think it could have been managed better because based on what Honourable Ruel Reid said this morning (yesterday) he knew before that it was a done deal and they should have advised parents so that they could make better decisions in terms of their children,” she said. “I understand what they are going through; it is really difficult, they need money,” she added.

Dijonae Baxter, and her friend Tyra Sutton who are both sixth-grade students at Half-Way-Tree Primary, said the time of the strike was wrong because some students are not yet fully prepared for the GSAT exam and need additional help, but that they are standing with the teachers.

“”They should strike because they work hard and are not getting enough pay,” said Baxter.

Richard Walker, a sixth-form student at Jamaica College, also empathised with the teachers.“I am not being biased, they work hard and they should be recognised for what they do [as] their standard of living is very low.”

“Government is only for their friends, that is how the Government operates, and that is why there is a brain drain. People have their qualifications but are being underpaid,” said the Jamaica College student.

Tiffany-Ann Murray, an eight-grader from Holy Childhood High, was on the other hand very happy that school was out.

“They should strike more often; we get to watch TV, sleep and eat more,” she said with a huge smile on her face as she waited for a bus at the transport centre in Half- Way-Tree.

However, her schoolmate, who declined to give her name, did not support the teachers. She said that they should find another strategy to register their disapproval with Government's wage offer. “Striking won't necessarily work. How long can they strike for? “It will only cut down the time for students to learn, and you will have to lengthen the time again,” she said.

“Yes, teachers should be better paid but I don't think any good will come of this strike,” she added.

The National Parenting Teachers Association (NPTAJ), in a release, called on the Government and the teachers to urgently resume wage negotiations to try reach an amicable solution to the ongoing dispute.

“The NPTAJ, while recognising the concerns of the JTA, is also concerned about the continuing impasse which could escalate to include other sectors. The already limited contact time between students and teachers should not be further negatively impacted. The number of productivity hours that have already been lost by parents, teachers, students, and organisations cannot be recovered,” it said.

“There must be some common ground to which both sides can agree on; for us in the NPTAJ, it is the education of our children,” the association said.

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