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Pensions should remain, says JTA

BY HORACE HINES Observer staff reporter hinesh@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, August 22, 2012    

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ROSE HALL, St James — Newly installed President of the Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA) Clayton Hall says he is prepared to head to the appellate courts to ensure that teachers' pensions remain under the Pension Act.

"I am prepared to visit with the legal luminaries at the Caribbean Court of Justice or their colleagues up north in the Privy Council to test the veracity of such an opinion," Hall remarked.

"Teachers' pensions should remain under the Pension Act, and more resolute are we that the state of paucity currently experienced by educators be not multiplied to hyperbolic proportions as proposed in Green Paper 2, 2011 titled Options for Reform of the Public Sector Pension System," he said.

The Green Paper proposes that public servants be made to contribute to their pensions. Subsequent to its release, the Attorney General's Department advised that the proposed changes were in breach of contracts and were unconstitutional.

Alluding to that advice, Hall said he was convinced of the "jurisprudential authenticity of the original opinion emanating from the Office of the Attorney General, which stated that the changes proposed are illegal".

Since last year the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has been insisting that Jamaica reform public sector pensions. It's one of three areas on which a new agreement with the Fund are contingent. The others are tax reform and public sector transformation.

At the opening of the 2012/13 Budget Debate in May, Finance Minister Dr Peter Phillips said the proposed reforms would be implemented this fiscal year.

The JTA head's comments were made at his inaugural address at the 48th annual staging of the JTA conference held at the Ritz- Carlton Golf and Spa in Montego Bay, St James Monday night.

Also Monday, Hall, the principal of Spanish Town High School, noted that the "recent significant reduction in passes at the CSEC level runs counter to normal statistical movements".

The number of passes at the most recent sitting of the Caribbean Secondary Examination Certificate (CSEC) Mathematics in June showed a downward trend for Jamaicans, dropping to 61.8 per cent from 66.4 per cent last year.

Only 46 per cent of those who sat English language passed. This was in contrast to a 63.9 per cent pass rate last year and 64.9 per cent in 2010.

"The knee-jerk reaction is to point to teachers and their level of qualification or competence. I have significant questions relating to the statistics outlined on teacher competence...

"We need to investigate the root cause of our problem, beginning with the provision of qualified teachers at the early childhood level to ensure the foundation is laid as the Bible and physics prove that the foundation is necessary for future development," he said.

But president of the University of Technology Professor Errol Miller says persons should not rush to conclusions. As far as he is concerned, there is a lot to learn about statistical movements before one can effectively criticise the dip in this year's grades.

"How you really judge improvement is to take the grade over a period of time," Miller said.

Hall, meanwhile, expressed his gratitude to delegates who elected him as head of the JTA.

"I have spent an entire year in anticipation of this moment, and must confess that the feeling is almost surreal. I want to thank you teachers from Negril Point to Morant Point, from the shores of Clarendon to the pristine beaches of St Ann, for the confidence placed in me, and I crave your continued support as we embark on the journey at such a time as this," said Hall who took over the reins from Paul Adams.

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