Teachers, Thwaites again on collision course
— over leave arrangements
WITH anger simmering inside the Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA) over Education Minister Ronald Thwaites' strong objection to teachers taking vacation leave during instructional days, the head of the teachers' union is warning that the arrangement cannot be changed without consensus.
At the same time, Dr Mark Nicely, the JTA president, said that the association feels that teachers are being targeted and wants the Government to make the matter a public sector issue.
"If leave is a problem, let it not be a teacher problem, let it be a public sector problem. We don't want to be singled out; what we want is to be treated like everybody," he told the Jamaica Observer yesterday.
Last Friday Minister Thwaites, during his address at the closing ceremony of the education ministry's Region Three office back-to-school conference at Sunset Jamaica Grande Resort in Ocho Rios, St Ann, urged teachers to take their leave outside of the 190 days stipulated for instructional delivery in the academic year.
According to the minister, the ministry's Code of Regulations does not permit teachers to take their leave during instruction time, as their posts have to be filled by substitute teachers.
A few months ago, during his contribution to the sectoral debate, Thwaites had revealed that Government owed over $574 million to substitute teachers, and that it was also costing the Government $2.5 billion to pay teachers for study and vacation leave, a sore point over which he and the JTA have clashed before.
But, yesterday, Dr Nicely said while the JTA is aware of the economic challenges facing the Government, the education minister cannot, by himself, change the leave arrangements without first consulting teachers.
He said that teachers who have taught continuously for five years are permitted to go on leave for four months with pay, while those who have taught continuously for 10 years and over are entitled to eight months of paid vacation leave.
"This is something that we had agreed to in a meeting with the ministry. It's something we had signed to on the dotted line and it has legal binding," he said.
Teachers, Dr Nicely explained, can apply for leave any time throughout the year, and it is scheduled in four-month blocks, with the exception of teachers who are applying for eight months.
Therefore, he said, in order for the arrangement to be changed there has to be consultation with the association, instead of the periodic pronouncements by the minister.
"We believe that if there is to be any change to our current leave arrangements for the teachers, the Ministry of Education should approach the JTA to engage in some dialogue by which we can consider modifying the arrangement," he said. "We are not of the opinion that the ministry can arbitrarily modify the leave arrangement."
When asked about the stipulation in the Code to which the minister referred, Dr Nicely said he was not aware of that, or he may have been interpreting it incorrectly.
"I am not sure what the minister is talking about, but we seem to be at odds over our interpretation of the code," Dr Nicely said.
"The JTA is interpreting aspects of the code differently from how the minister of education is, and perhaps that is why we need to have a sit-down and talk about a particular section, and also about our interpretation and come to one mind as to what it is and how we are going to go forward," Dr Nicely said.