JTA applies pressure to Gov't, calls for wage negotiations

BY KIMONE FRANCIS
Observer staff reporter
francisk@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

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A potential stand-off between Government and the Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA) is threatening to disrupt the start of the new academic year in September, JTA president Howard Isaacs has warned.

Isaacs told the Jamaica Observer yesterday that negotiations with Government are due, but said that to date Government has said and done nothing to indicate its intent for public sector workers.

“The last contract we signed was two years ago. From April of this year we should have entered a new contract with the Government so we are very much due for negotiation. We should be having the 2017/2019 negotiation period because that's what we're (public sector workers) in now,” the JTA president told the Observer after the association issued a statement to the media on the matter.

The statement said JTA is very concerned that, to date, Government has not invited the association to commence negotiations for improved salary and conditions of service for the island's teachers.

It said that the concern is further aggravated by the long delay which, the association said, is unprecedented in recent times and more so coming against the reality that teachers are feeling the economic squeeze. It warned that there could be “serious implications” for the new school year.

“The delay is extremely long because in essence we would have submitted our claim from December of last year. The Government had requested that claims be submitted and we submitted ours quite early. In the schedule of negotiations, once you would have started a new period for wage and salaries to be negotiated, you would have started at the beginning of April — the new financial year. We are now in July after making the claim from December,” Isaacs informed.

He explained that the association did its clarification meeting when it met with the Government in February and was promised that negotiation would have started soon after. Isaacs said months later, the Government remains mum on the matter.

Despite this, he was not prepared to say what the teachers were demanding, noting that “in time all parties concerned will be fully cognisant of what we are requesting from the Government of Jamaica”. He said that it would not be precedent for them to start the negotiation outside of the negotiating room.

“Over the many years of negotiating with Government, we normally have a conference in August of every year. During a negotiating period we would normally present the offer to our delegates and a vote is carried out accordingly, to [determine] if we go back to the bargaining table or we accept such an offer.

“We are about five weeks away from our conference and no negotiation has started, so we can't guarantee any normalcy for September because it is at that conference where the delegates review how the Government has responded to us or not responded to us, and then we'll act accordingly. So we're saying it could, we're not saying it will, but we can't guarantee,” Isaacs warned. “So we're just asking the Government or using this format to say to them, 'Let us start the discussion'.”

In the meantime, the JTA president said while the association is not against performance-based salaries, there are several factors that must be looked at when discussing conditions of work and salaries for teachers.

“Where we are now, there are too many issues in the room for us to basically say 'If you pay teachers less or more you're going to have better performance'. We have to look into the whole system and respond accordingly before we talk about performance-based pay,” he told the Observer.

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